Transparency News 10/8/18



October 8, 2018


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national stories of interest

A judge decided to hold a Racine, Wisconsin, alderwoman in contempt of court for speaking to news outlets about his decision to seal her open records lawsuit. Records of the proceeding are inaccessible, but Sandy Weidner told The Associated Press on Thursday that Racine County Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz found her in contempt during a hearing Wednesday. The judge warned her that he would fine her $1,000 a day for every day she talks about the case going forward. "I got a tongue-lashing, that's for sure," Weidner said in a telephone interview. "I knew I would be considered in contempt. I think the sanctions are fair. It is serious to defy a judge's order," she said. Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called Gasiorkiewicz's contempt finding "an extraordinary development in an already extraordinary case."
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have agreed to drop their claims against the city of Atlanta for what the media organizations described as “systemic violations” of the Georgia Open Records Act, according to an agreement reached this week. Under the agreement, the city will work with the news outlets over the next 90 days in drafting a comprehensive policy that will govern how the city responds to public records requests. The standards contained in the new policy will go a few steps further than what is currently in the Georgia Open Records Act, according to the agreement.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Over the years, a number of requesters, researchers, and members of the public have asked whether we think who the requester is impacts how requests are handled. Under the law, every requester should be treated the same, but we’ve seen a number of cases where different requesters get different answers (and prices, and response times) for largely identical requests. So we decided to analyze our data to see if one factor - predicted ethnicity based on name - swayed how requests were handled.

The Metro Office of Inspector General (OIG) is gearing up for more investigations of the long-troubled transit agency as it seeks more independence from Metro officials, who are launching a $500 million, multiyear repair project. ployees over the last 18 months, increasing his staff to 36 members, including 12 investigators, 13 auditors, three deputy inspector generals and one forensic analyst. Three other staffers serve in the OIG’s newly-created Office of Inspections, Evaluations and Special Projects.
The Washington Times



"The standards contained in the new policy will go a few steps further than what is currently in the Georgia Open Records Act."


editorials & columns


"Having the terms of a settlement remain confidential is one thing. Trying to prevent the public — and the taxpayers — from learning that there even was a settlement is far, far different."

Lack of transparency by Charlottesville city government has been a sore subject for months, with concerns intensifying around the time of last year’s July 8 and Aug. 12 rallies and peaking after an independent report found vast gaps in city leaders’ communication with each other as well as with the public. Improved transparency has been one of new Mayor Nikuyah Walker’s stated goals. Now we discover that the history of non-transparency has persisted, with the public only recently learning that former Police Chief Al Thomas, who was in charge during last summer’s protests, did not “retire” as we’d been told but rather left office under some sort of settlement that allows him to continue receiving a salary.  City Attorney John Blair recently confirmed that the payment is part of a “settlement agreement,” with both parties having agreed that the terms would remain confidential. Having the terms of a settlement remain confidential is one thing. Trying to prevent the public — and the taxpayers — from learning that there even was a settlement is far, far different. And this settlement is costing the taxpayers good money. Meanwhile, at least two councilors even professed to have been kept in the dark themselves — a truly ironic display of non-transparency by the city.
The Daily Progress

The content on our pages is considered a first rough draft on history. Collectively, our institution is known as “the Fourth Estate,” acting as a check on the three branches of government. Sunday, Oct. 7, marks the first day of National Newspaper Week, a weeklong effort to recognize the importance of newspapers in our democratic nation. Even though newspapers continue to evolve from their print versions into a series of robust digital products, the role they play is now more important than ever. Journalism matters. That statement has no political biases, although it does reaffirm our belief that newspapers are a nudge on public officials to remain transparent, even when it is not expedient for them to do so.
Daily Press

It’s not a conflict of interest to associate with like-minded people or to step up to run for public office because you want to advance such views. That’s true if you’re running on a pro-Weekday Religious Education and Save-the-Name platform or an anti-WRE, Change-the-Name platform. If this twisted definition of “conflict” were true, no past or current member of the NRA could vote on gun legislation and no member of the ACLU could vote on measures outlawing discrimination. Someone who wants to move from PTA involvement to school board would be ineligible to vote on any issues concerning education. NAACP members would be prohibited from voting on issues of discrimination and voting rights. Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician, would have to recuse himself from input on any health care bills due to involvement in medical associations. It’s just silly. At the heart of our First Amendment rights are those to petition government for change and to speak freely, publish freely, worship freely and assemble freely. Taken together these are considered collectively to constitute our right of free association. This includes political groups, whether they be political parties or simply alliances, such as Staunton Action.
The News Leader