Transparency News, 10/28/20


 October 28, 2020
There was no issue of VCOG's newsletter yesterday, Oct. 27.
state & local news stories
Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith has established an External Advisory Committee that he hopes will strengthen relationships and foster greater trust between his department and city residents. After the Richmond Times-Dispatch requested a list of the committee’s members and contact information for them, police officials released the name and phone number for one member of the committee, but Smith declined to identify the other 14 members, whom he characterized as diverse in terms of age, race and walks of life. A department spokeswoman said no one on the committee is an RPD employee or former employee. “In this environment, some people do have concerns about being ‘doxed,’ ” said Smith, referring to the practice of maliciously publishing private information about people online. Some anti-police activists, the chief said, would say: “Why are you working with the police?”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Democratic Party of Virginia on Monday filed a lawsuit against Richmond’s top elections official, arguing that her agency is violating the state’s public records laws by withholding the names of voters whose absentee ballots contain errors. The lawsuit alleges that on Oct. 9, Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for a list of voters with ballots containing errors. Seventeen days later, according to the complaint, Showalter’s office said it did not have a list. Upon being pressed, Showalter’s office on Oct. 21 shared a list of 26 voters who filed erroneous ballots before Oct. 9, adding that it might be outdated or incomplete. “During that time frame — October 9 to October 21 — twelve days of early voting passed, and it is extremely unlikely that every single absentee ballot received did not have a material error or omission,” the complaint reads. “Indeed, in comparable localities such as the City of Norfolk, which has a population of approximately 242,000 versus approximately 230,000 in the City of Richmond, 133 absentee ballots currently need to be cured.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
stories from around the country
A regulatory "firewall" intended to protect Voice of America and its affiliated newsrooms from political interference in their journalism was swept aside late Monday night by the chief executive of the federal agency which oversees the government's international broadcasters. Michael Pack, a Trump appointee who assumed leadership of the U.S. Agency for Global Media in June, wrote that he acted to eliminate policies that were "harmful to the agency and the U.S. national interest." And Pack argued they had interfered with his mandate "to support the foreign policy of the United States."

A new report published by a government transparency coalition in Colorado describes the state’s open records law as “unbalanced,” saying it negatively impacts those who work for the public good by allowing custodians to impose exorbitant fees to produce public records. University of Denver law student Justin Twardowski, who compiled the report for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (CFOIC), found that while the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) doesn't specify fees for records requests, courts have allowed custodians to charge “nominal” fees for research and retrieval, a right Twardowski argues state agencies abuse continuously, resulting in exorbitant fees being charged for simple and narrowly-tailored requests.
Colorado Politics

editorials & columns
Although Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn later insisted she had the legal authority to remove the statues [from the capitol], reporters who were allowed to watch were not allowed to report on the removals until the artifacts were squirrelled away in a still-undisclosed location, lending credence to critics who questioned whether she had such authority in the first place. She then compounded her error by telling Webster that “no such records exist” when he filed a FOIA request about the company hired to do the July 23 removal and the cost to Virginia taxpayers—which turned out to be more than $80,000. When the speaker of the House of Delegates—one of Virginia’s two law-writing bodies—decided that she didn’t have to respond truthfully to Webster’s FOIA request, she showed her contempt for a law passed by the same institution she now leads. It took a private citizen filing a FOIA request demanding transparency, and then holding Filler-Corn accountable in court when she refused to provide it, to send home the message that nobody in Virginia is above the law.
The Free Lance-Star