Transparency News 11/10/17

Friday, November 10, 2017

State and Local Stories

Thank you to our most recent conference sponsors:

  • Roger Christman
  • The News & Advance

Data received this week shows that the average number of police department vacancies have been on the rise since 2012. This week, the Daily Press published a story about snowballing overtime costs for the Newport News police and fire departments over the last three fiscal years. Overtime pay went from $2.9 million in fiscal year 2015 for both departments to $5.5 million in fiscal year 2017, city budget records show. Those costs increasingly outpaced what the city had budgeted each year. By last fiscal year, the departments had gone $3.2 million past their combined overtime budgets. (These figures don’t include associated fringe benefits).
Daily Press

Former Virginia Tech Provost Thanassis Rikakis — whose resignation was announced last month — is on paid administrative leave through Dec. 31, according to terms of his new university employment offer. The Roanoke Times filed a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for Rikakis’ “terms of faculty offer letter” last week and that request was initially denied by Tech, citing the law’s personnel exemption. After the newspaper appealed the exemption, Tech decided to let a reporter review the document this week but would not allow the reporter to make a copy.
The Roanoke Times

The Albemarle County School Board cut its Thursday night meeting short after a fire alarm was activated in the County Office Building on McIntire Road. The board's representatives decided on the steps outside the building to adjourn after the alarm sounded for a prolonged period. The Charlottesville Fire Department was still investigating the cause of the activation when that decision was made. The School Board was in the middle of a presentation on schematic designs for modernization projects in a number of schools. Before voting to adjourn, with the clerk present, the board approved the designs. The remaining agenda items have been pushed to the next School Board meeting.
Daily Progress

National stories

The scene captured by video is almost too terrible to imagine, much less contemplate watching: seven minutes of gunfire as a black-clad gunman executes his victims — many of them small children — inside the First Baptist Church here. Lock the video up forever, some Texas residents and former law enforcement officials say. Better yet, destroy it. But grisly videos and other images captured by live-streams, security cameras and cellphones are increasingly becoming part of a raw historical record of mass shootings, haunting pieces of evidence left behind along with bullet fragments and bloodstains. Whether to ever release these videos or keep them permanently out of sight raises vexing questions. Releasing them could affect the integrity of law enforcement investigations, re-traumatize families of victims and feed online voyeurs and conspiracy theorists, officials say. But others argue that keeping the videos out of public view masks the true horror of mass shootings and allows politicians and the public to avoid confronting their bloody reality.
New York Times

The Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General is tasked with keeping track of more than $30 billion a year in state spending. But as the state budget grows larger and more complex, the auditor’s resources keep shrinking. The agency incurred sharp funding reductions for a few years starting in fiscal 2010, and next year’s state budget calls for another cut of nearly 8 percent. The department’s staff is smaller by about a third than it was a decade ago. Pennsylvania is not unique. At a time when governments are trying to get a better grip on their finances, many states have cut funds for auditing and oversight. Such positions were sometimes among the first casualties in the aftermath of the recession. 

A federal judge has dismissed — for a second time — a pair of lawsuits seeking to force the State Department to do more to recover former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails. Late last year, an appeals court overturned U.S. District Court Judge Jame Boasberg's initial dismissal of the cases filed by conservative watchdog groups Judicial Watch and Cause of Action Institute. The appeals court panel said State had not done enough to demonstrate that it had exhausted all potential avenues to find federal records Clinton maintained in her private email accounts. As a result of that ruling, the FBI came forward with more details on the steps it took to track down Clinton's messages during the bureau's probe, which did not lead to any charges.