Transparency News 11/11/13

Monday, November 11, 2013
State and Local Stories


The FOIA Council answers a TV reporter’s questions about the availability of date of birth information on arrested adults.

The race for attorney general in Virginia remains undecided nearly a week after Election Day, and as local elections officials neared the conclusion of an investigation into absentee ballots, the razor-thin lead of Republican Mark D. Obenshain narrowed. Numbers from the Virginia State Board of Elections on Sunday showed Mr. Obenshain leading his Democratic opponent, Mark R. Herring by 55 votes statewide at 1,103,436 to 1,103,381. But analysts said that number is likely to change as election officials in Fairfax County count provisional ballots before the Tuesday certification deadline. Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Brian W. Schoeneman said the board had finished counting roughly 3,200 previously uncounted absentee ballots for the county and had submitted them to the elections board. Mr. Schoeneman said 493 provisional ballots were not included in the weekend submission to the state board but would be counted Tuesday. Mr. Herring took 61 percent of the vote in Fairfax County compared to 39 percent for Mr. Obenshain.
Washington Times

Dwight C. Jones'security will cost Richmond more than $300,000this year /  Late in 2008, after Dwight C. Jones was elected Richmond's mayor, he said he did not want a security entourage but also did not "want to make the ultimate sacrifice for this job." He also insisted that whatever the size and scope of police protection for him, it would cost less than what was provided for his predecessor, L. Douglas Wilder. Since Jones took office at the start of 2009, the Richmond Police Department has spent at least $1.6 million to provide security for him. Much of that cost — about $1.4 million — has covered the salaries and benefits for his three-officer security detail, according to documents provided to the Richmond Times-Dispatch in response to a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The Richmond Police Department did not respond to a request for records related to the costs of the mayor’s security detail within the time period required under state law. Virginia law requires that government officials respond to a Freedom of Information Act request within five working days. Public officials can respond, for example, by providing the requested records, by withholding the records and citing the reason they are being withheld, or by informing the person requesting the records that additional time is needed to provide them. The Richmond Times-Dispatch emailed a request Sept. 19 to Victoria Pearson Benjamin, general counsel for the Richmond Police Department, seeking the records and citing the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

It's back to court a third time if an Iraq War veteran hopes to see "ICUHAJI" license plates on his vehicle again. A Circuit Court judge last week dismissed Sean Bujno's second attempt to reclaim the personalized tags, which some Arab Americans and Muslims find offensive. "It's easy to sit back and say, 'Oh, this is just about a license plate,' but this is about the First Amendment," said Andrew Meyers, Bujno's attorney. He said they are considering another appeal - this time with the Virginia Court of Appeals or U.S. District Court. "This is how we keep our rights," he said. "We have to fight for them."

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office’s lost its bid for immunity against being sued for burning down a mobile home during a botched standoff two years ago. U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer, instead of writing off the blaze as the result of a good-faith mistake, has decided that a jury should decide whether police resorted to heavy-handed tactics when tossing inside a dozen teargas grenades for a fugitive who might not have been there. At the same time, the judge tossed out a host of such claims as conspiracy to inflict emotional distress, violation of free speech, outrageous conduct and violation of due process rights.
Herald Courier

Combining 18th-century charm with 21st-century technology, Williamsburg has been recognized as one of the top ten cities of its size for digital government. The award comes form the Center for Digital Government. Williamsburg placed 9th among cities with populations under 75,000. This is the 13th year of the Center for Digital Government rankings, but previously only cities with more than 30,000 populations were considered. Williamsburg, with a population of about 14,000, was recognized in its first year of eligibility.
Virginia Gazette

National Stories

A panel of Fox News contributors spoke out this week in support of reporter Jana Winter, who faces possible jail time for refusing to reveal the sources of her reporting in the case of Aurora, Col., gunman James Holmes.
Fox News


Roanoke Times: Last week, 45 delegates were elected without the inconvenience of having an opponent. Sadly, this is not a case of democracy on the wane. Comparatively speaking, legislators worked themselves into a competitive lather this year. In the 2011 House of Delegates races, a ridiculous 63 seats were uncontested. Even so, voters in most legislative districts this year had little to no choice over who will represent them at the state Capitol. In addition to those delegates without competition, another 13 won with 70 percent or more of the ballots cast. In other words, a majority in the General Assembly’s lower chamber were elected in the absence of anything resembling a “race,” much less a meaningful debate about the challenges facing the commonwealth.

Daily ProgressHundreds of thousands of drones in the air, and no real plan to stop them from spying on you? What is the FAA thinking ? Oh, that’s right. It’s not thinking. Thank goodness Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., is. The Federal Aviation Administration has released a new five-year proposal for regulating the use of unmanned aircraft in U.S. skies. But Sen. Markey says the proposal doesn’t go far enough to protect the public’s privacy.

Al Kamen, Washington Post: And now, a journey into the sometimes surreal world of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. The law can be a powerful tool for the public and the news media to discover all manner of mal- , mis- and nonfeasance by government agencies and officials. But using it can be a cumbersome and time-consuming process — errant officials may be long gone from government by the time you get the documents. And getting inspector generals’ reports of investigations of misconduct by senior officials can be even trickier. In fact, agencies may not release such reports unless you first file a FOIA request for them.