Transparency News 10/31/13

Thursday, October 31, 2013
State and Local Stories


Although Virginia's disclosure laws make decoding Terry McAuliffe's finances as difficult as grabbing water, this much is clear: His vast investments would require serious shifting if he becomes governor. Leveraged as McAuliffe is in municipal bonds, securities and business holdings - some with state connections - his campaign says they won't be a conflict if he's elected because the investments would go into a blind trust. Spokesman Josh Schwerin said McAuliffe would consult with independent legal experts and the Attorney General's Office on the matter. Republicans, however, remain skeptical of any hands-off pledge, given their view of McAuliffe's history as a political financier with interests they say could intersect with a governor's duties.

A locally based business that will allow people to share contact information with others at the same event using a subscription-based text messaging service won the inaugural Made in FredVA competition Wednesday night. Muster Me aims to improve the way people share contact information at conferences, weddings and other events. Often, as O’Malley said Wednesday to a roomful of people at Dodd Auditorium on the University of Mary Washington’s campus, attendees write down their name, email address and other contact information on a sheet of paper that then has to be manually typed and shared.
Free Lance-Star

City Councilman Jeff Helgeson is urging Lynchburg to use only gun-friendly venues for its public meetings or, in lieu of that, to provide security at meetings. Helgeson, who’s been vocal about gun rights recently, said law-abiding citizens should be able to protect themselves at city meetings by bearing arms. Holding a meeting in gun-free zones, such as public schools, deprives people of that right, he said. In those instances, the city should either provide security or rethink the venue, he said.
News & Advance

Questions about gun rights led to questions about government transparency this month when a handgun owner set out to learn what type of police files are maintained on him. Lynchburg resident Christopher Moore filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the information compiled by city police when he applied for a concealed handgun permit. The police conduct background investigations on all applicants, and advise the courts on whether permits should be granted or not. “The main purpose of me filing a FOIA request was to see what type of information they’re gathering on law-abiding citizens,” he said. “… I’m just a liberty-minded individual, and something smells off to me.”
News & Advance

Libraries catalog everything in their collections. But when Waynesboro Public Library workers were moving historical documents two years ago in advance of its renovation, they were surprised to come across documents that were clearly important and un-catalogued. The pages that headed for temporary storage from the local history collection were a 130-year-old roster for a Civil War confederate regiment. The pages list hundreds of Confederate soldiers who served in D Company of the 25th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, Virginia Volunteers, compiled apparently from memory in 1884 for the state General Assembly.
News Leader

National Stories

Two days before a court-imposed deadline expired, the Kansas Corporation Commission on Tuesday approved new guidelines for how it will conduct business in compliance with state open-meetings laws. The commission sets rates and regulates electric, gas and some other utilities in Kansas. The new guidelines generally require that all final-action decisions be made in public meetings.
Wichita Eagle

Members of a task force reviewing Delaware Family Court policies are going to recommend that the Delaware General Assembly open up divorce, paternity and child custody cases. Delaware has a long tradition of keeping most civil matters in family court closed to the public, so the recommendation to start from the position that those proceedings are assumed to be open marks a significant change in thinking about family court. “I am thrilled,” said Bonnie Corwin, a member of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government who attended Tuesday’s meeting of the General Assembly’s Family Court Task Force in Legislative Hall.
Delaware Online

A knotty freedom of information question surfaced during the past few days, and it touches on a subject that needs a legislative review. That would be the issue of whether a private company providing services to a public agency is subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and, if so, to what extent. The subject came up when a Jonesboro Sun reporter on Friday asked Chad Niell, chief executive officer of Tiger Correctional Services, to provide information regarding its monthly sales and profits under a contract for jail commissary services with the Craighead County Sheriff’s Department. “That’s none of your damn business,” responded Niell, who may still have a burr under his saddle over perceived ill treatment by the newspaper during his recent unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for state senator in District 21. However, the question of whether Tiger must provide such documentation is not clear under the FOIA. The open records provision in the law defines public records as those kept “by a public official or employee, a governmental agency, or any other agency or improvement district that is wholly or partially supported by public funds or expending public funds.”
The Courier

State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.

A judge’s order to keep search warrant materials sealed in the case of a 14-year-old accused of killing a Massachusetts teacher has prompted several media outlets to legally challenge the decision. Philip Chism was charged with murder last week in the killing of 24-year-old Colleen Ritzer, his math teacher at Danvers High School. On Thursday, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office filed a motion to impound the search warrant materials compiled by a state police investigator in the case, The Salem News reports.  “We requested the impoundment because the search warrant affidavit and the motion to impound the affidavit contain sensitive information that may be prejudicial to the defendant and jeopardize his right to a fair trial; witness names who have yet to appear before the grand jury and information that may contribute to the increased psychological and emotional distress of the victim’s family,” the office said in a statement, according to the Boston Herald.
Fox News

A federal judge has given the government permission to privately brief her on what it considers the national security risks in releasing certain classified information in a high-profile leak prosecution involving a Fox News report. Some legal experts on the handling of classified information said the decision this week ignores the law and lets the government put the defendant, former State Department arms expert Stephen J. Kim, at a disadvantage in preparing for trial. As Kim seeks the judge’s approval to use some of this information in his defense, the government already will have made secret arguments for why the material is so sensitive.
Washington Post

An abrupt about-face by Penn State officials who canceled a public meeting to name a university president on Friday triggered more complaints from critics who say the university's culture of secrecy erodes public trust. Trustees told the Tribune-Review that the board's 12-member search committee was prepared to introduce a candidate for president on Thursday evening and vote the next morning. When several of the 32 board members balked, saying no one consulted them, officials called off the meeting. Board Chairman Keith Masser did not return calls for comment.
Trib Live

The NSA Haiku Generator is a Web site that spits out automated poems in the classic 5-7-5 syllable format. It feeds off NSA keywords and pulls from a Department of Homeland Security keyword list.

Here's mine:
fax authorities
cyber command shots fired, Bob
Zen pseudonyms breach


Roger Chesley, Virginian-Pilot: Just when you try to applaud Portsmouth leaders for doing something right - persuading the state to reschedule weekend closings at the westbound Downtown Tunnel - the situation turns sour. The agreement to alter the schedule, and the way it was decided, have unleashed long-simmering tensions between Mayor Kenny Wright and several City Council members. Make no mistake: Nearly all of the blame must fall on the mayor because of his autocratic style, coupled with hisfrequent failure to inform the rest of the council about critical developments affecting the city. This public brouhaha is embarrassing. It's a disservice to Portsmouth residents.