Transparency News 11/1/19



November 1, 2019


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state & local news stories


Martinsville officials appear to have violated state law this week when they locked city hall to the public while inside they held a City Council meeting to discuss possible plans to revert to town status. City Council had called a special closed meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, but at the time the meeting was scheduled, the front and back doors to the City Municipal building, where council chambers are located, were locked, and no guard was present, effectively barring the public from attending an open meeting that is required before the council can go into closed session.
Martinsville Bulletin

The Charlottesville City Council has released an updated draft of the proposed bylaws and ordinance for a police oversight panel that addresses some of the issues raised over its first draft and conceded on two main points of contention. The proposal still allows the council to appoint members in closed session. Board members would be required to sign confidentiality agreements related to the contents of an internal affairs file or other personnel record.
The Daily Progress

The Frederick County government is producing podcasts where people can learn about its functions and services. The idea for the podcast series, called “Life at the Top,” came from county Public Information Officer Karen Vacchio, who worked with Government Service Learning students on the project. “They came up with the concept, the format, the logo, the jingle, researched what equipment we would need, the whole nine yards,” Vacchio said in a news release. “We were looking for an additional outreach tool and the students nailed it.” The first podcast episode aired in the spring, but the county didn’t start posting them on a regular basis until this past month.
The Winchester Star


stories of national interest

Last week, the Washington Supreme Court ruled on a case where state sunshine law and labor interests crash right into each other. The decision — that the birth dates of state employees are open records— already has some Democrats talking about reviving legislation to shield those workers’ birth dates from disclosure. The narrow 5-4 court ruling represents a win for transparency advocates and the state’s 1972 voter-approved Public Records Act. The majority opinion penned by Justice Debra Stephens found that neither that law nor the state constitution exempts those employee birth dates from disclosure.
The Seattle Times




editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"Yet four Supreme Court justices still think birth dates — which are routinely disclosed by state agencies, including courts — are secrets akin to bank accounts or medical records."

There is one contested office on the Roanoke ballot, though; one that might confuse many voters because it’s for an office we rarely hear about. (Same, too, for voters in Montgomery County.) Just what is this Soil and Water Conservation Board, anyway? And why is there a three-way race for two seats in both localities? The answer to the first question takes us back to the early 1900s, which saw the rise of “scientific agriculture.
The Roanoke Times

Protecting people from identity theft is important. But that’s not accomplished by obscuring birth dates on public records. In 2017, Washington state saw 7,360 reports of identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That’s 0.1% of the population. More people are victims of fraud, mostly by scam phone calls. If it took only birth dates to steal identity and credit, theft rates would be far higher, since birth dates are widely available. Voter birthdays in Washington are public records, for instance. This minimal information sharing is an innocuous trade-off made to have accountable self governance. Yet four Supreme Court justices still think birth dates — which are routinely disclosed by state agencies, including courts — are secrets akin to bank accounts or medical records and dissented from last week’s ruling. They didn’t cite a single case of birth dates alone being used to perpetrate fraud or identity theft. Instead, the dissent invoked data breaches and shadowy thieves — “Whether by buying or hacking, cybercriminals can access our personal information to wreak havoc” — but those are very different threats. 
The Seattle Times