Transparency News 10/8/13


Tuesday, October 8, 2013
State and Local Stories


In response to a query from York County attorney Jim Barnett, the attorney general says a public official's constituent newsletter may or may not be a public record; it depends on the content and use of the newsletter. However, if you assume the newsletter is a public record, the email distribution list used to send the newsletter is would not be exempt from disclosure.
VCOG website

An overwhelming number of Virginians believe Gov. Bob McDonnell should pay for his own legal expenses in the gifts controversy, a new University of Mary Washington poll shows. Of the people surveyed, 89 percent of likely voters said they have heard either a lot or a little about McDonnell and his relationship with a donor. Of those aware of the scandal, 44 percent of likely voters said they think McDonnell was involved in wrongdoing, 19 percent said he was not and 29 percent said they have not heard enough to make a decision.

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors will seek a special election to replace Staunton River Supervisor Marshall Ecker, who died Sept. 26. The board voted 6-0 during its regular meeting Monday night to direct the county attorney to request permission from Pittsylvania County Circuit Court to hold a special election on Nov. 4, 2014. The board also agreed to advertise that it is seeking replacements for Ecker in the Staunton River Magisterial District seat.
Register & Bee

Terry McAuliffe’s effort to press top federal officials on behalf of his troubled electric car company waswider and deeper than previously revealed, emails obtained by show. The emails – among McAuliffe and top-level Department of Homeland Security officials – include dire warnings that GreenTech Automotive‘s Mississippi plant would shut down within hours if officials failed to approve foreign investors’ visa applications. Virginia Bureau

National Stories

In response to the recent controversy about The Associated Press phone records subpoena, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would expand the existing shield law for the state's journalists. Under the new law, which takes into effect Jan.1, officials are required to notify journalists at least five days before they subpoena third-party providers, such as telephone companies or cloud-based servers, for their records. The bill gives journalists the opportunity to challenge the subpoena in court or at least request the scope be narrowed.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

First Amendment disputes are at the forefront of  the Supreme Court’s docket as it began its fall term yesterday (October 7), after a couple of terms in which other issues ranging from health care reform to same-sex marriage dominated the headlines. Six cases on its docket raise First Amendment issues, including high-profile disputes over campaign finance reform and church-state relations.
First Amendment Center

Delaware State Treasurer Chip Flowers called for an overhaul of the state-issued credit card system used by public employees in a 21-page report released Friday regarding misuse by former Deputy State Treasurer Erika J. Benner. Ms. Benner charged $2,341.58 in non-business-related expenses on a state credit card between Oct. 6, 2011 and Feb. 25, 2013, and resigned her position on Sept. 4, 2013. She later re-paid what was owed, but the treasurer questioned how the system overlooked regular personal charges during a 16-month period.
Delaware State News

With the federal government largely shut down over Republican opposition to the federal health care law, Democratic state senators here are pushing for release of a new study of the cost of insuring the poorest Alaskans. Gov. Sean Parnell has resisted the biggest part of the Affordable Care Act, expanding the pool of people eligible for state Medicaid, a joint state-federal insurance program that serves those with no or low income. Aides say Parnell will decide whether to recommend a Medicaid expansion by Dec. 15, when his budget proposal for next year is due to the Legislature. The state Department of Health and Social Services last year contracted with The Lewin Group, a Virginia-based health care consultant, to perform a nearly $80,000 study to examine the costs of expanding Medicaid through June 2020. Though the final study was delivered to the department April 12, the state has refused to release it. Parnell has yet to be briefed on it by his health commissioner, William Streur, according to his spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow. The document doesn't have to be disclosed because it's in the realm of "deliberative process," an exemption allowed under law, she said.
Anchorage Daily News

The Iowa Department of Transportation is planning to rescind some 3,200 license plates issued to government agencies that have a special confidential status and reissue only those that are justified for sensitive work, a spokeswoman said Friday. Gov. Terry Branstad ordered the DOT in July to conduct a review aimed at reducing the number of such plates, which allow their drivers to avoid tickets from speed and red light cameras. The order came after The Associated Press reported about the widespread uses of the plates, which had been issued to more than 350 local, state and federal agencies.
Muscatine Journal

The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles' commissioner has sent individual letters of apology to about 400 job applicants whose names, home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and exam scores were posted on the DMV's official website by mistake. The unusual action by Commissioner Melody A. Currey was clearly intended to prevent any strong negative reaction concerning the increasingly sensitive issue of computerized breaches of individual privacy. In this episode, it apparently wasn't an electronic glitch, but a case of human error by those working with the state's computer.
Hartford Courant

In a rare display of contrition coming to a Florida city near you, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is acknowledging what civil rights groups and local elections officials had already been saying: Last year’s attempted purge of noncitizens from voter rolls was fundamentally flawed. “I accept responsibility for the effort,” Scott’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, told the Herald/Times. “It could have been better. It should have been better.”
Miami Herald

Ohio’s attorney general’s office plans to start a system later this month to stop former government employees from accessing Ohio’s law enforcement database. Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is making security changes to the database that includes stricter password standards.
Toledo Blade

The widow of blogger and web publisher Andrew Breitbart is fighting an attempt to make her a defendant in a defamation lawsuit against her late husband. After months of wrangling over Breitbart's role in the case following his death in March 2012, lawyers for the plaintiff have asked the court to substitute Susannah Breitbart as a defendant. Over the weekend, lawyers for Susannah Breitbart, represented by Reed Smith, filed papers opposing that request.
Blog of LegalTimes

A veritable FOIA frenzy ensued in 2013 following a series of leaks about NSA surveillance programs, recently released documents show. From June 6 to September 4, the National Security Agency’s FOIA load increased 1,054 percent over its 2012 intake. In that three-month span, the agency received 3,382 public records requests. For comparison, the NSA received just 293 requests over the same period in 2012. The statistics come from an internal agency email released to MuckRock last week. We requested the NSA’s FOIA logs for this year, as well as any internal communications regarding the agency’s FOIA receipts in 2013. We're still waiting for the most recent FOIA log... probably because the NSA FOIA office is buried under requests.


Megan Rhyne, Times-Dispatch: The news media have no more rights under Virginia’s FOIA than any given citizen in the commonwealth. The government must make the same responses within the same time frame whether it is the Richmond Times-Dispatch or Megan Rhyne making the request. In theory, the public and press would be treated absolutely identically under the law. In practice, however, it tends to be a little different, and that difference points up the reason why the media’s robust and systematic use of public records benefits all citizens.

Daily Press: The next few months are going to get very interesting in Hampton. Mayor Molly Joseph Ward has resigned to accept a federal position in Washington. Council member George Wallace has been chosen by his peers to replace her on an interim basis. A special election will be held, probably in May, for the citizens to choose their next mayor. This change is an opportunity for Hampton voters and taxpayers to make their thoughts known about how the city is spending its time and money. Temporarily the title of mayor belongs to Mr. Wallace, who has served the city for more than three decades as an assistant city manager, city manager and council member. We have always admired the obvious love he has for Hampton, and the pride he takes in the city. Ms. Ward was elected mayor in 2008 and re-elected last year. Too often during her tenure, the city's business was conducted behind closed doors, with little or no transparency offered to citizens or the press. It is our fervent hope that the new mayor will strive to bring more openness in the way things get done. It's unlikely Hampton residents will get that from Mr. Wallace, who also prefers closed doors.

Roanoke Times: State legislators who rebuffed calls for a special session on ethics reforms this fall haven’t just elbowed the issue aside. They’re huddling to discuss stricter anti-corruption rules, a good sign that they plan to pursue legislation when they gather at the state Capitol in January. Those efforts are laudable, but voters need to keep a close eye on the proposals as they take shape. Otherwise, the end result will be a wad of wet noodles, measures that sound tough but fall short on enforcement. Virginians must insist on a big stick and a burly watchdog to wield it in the form of an independent ethics commission.

Daily Progress: There’s little doubt that a brouhaha over voter lists is partially about politics. But there are also issues of fairness to voters and integrity of the election system upon which our democracy depends. The bottom line is: People who are registered to vote in more than one state should be purged from the lists. “One person, one vote” is fundamental to democracy. No voter should have more pull at the polls than any other; each person should have an equal voice once he steps inside that voting booth.

Robert Scheer, News & AdvanceSecrecy is for the convenience of the state. To support military adventures and budgets, vast troves of U.S. government secrets are routinely released not by lone dissident whistle-blowers but rather skilled teams of government officials. They engage in coordinated propaganda campaigns designed to influence public opinion. They leak secrets compulsively to advance careers or justify wars and weapons programs, even when the material is far more threatening to national security than any revealed by Edward Snowden.