Transparency News 11/15/13

Friday, November 15, 2013
State and Local Stories


Gov. Bob McDonnell, fielding questions about his gifts controversy during an appearance on MSNBC Thursday, said in hindsight he would do some things differently but flatly rejected a question about abuse of power. Asked if he agrees that it looks like he abused his position, the governor said, “Absolutely not.” “I followed the law, I accepted gifts, lot of other governors have done the same thing,” he said. Sent from my iPhone, please forgive my typos.

The Henrico County School Board accepted the resignation of Superintendent Patrick J. Russo on Thursday night but refused to answer questions about what led to Russo being placed on paid leave for nearly 100 days before getting $186,434 in severance on his way out the door. After reading a brief resolution stating that the School Board and Russo had “mutually agreed” to end the relationship effective today, School Board Chairwoman Beverly L. Cocke spoke with reporters but shed little new light on the leadership shake-up, deflecting questions by calling it an “ongoing personnel matter.”

Colonial Beach Town Council member Tim Curtin resigned abruptly Thursday, saying in a letter thathe no longer could work with the current council. Curtin resigned after attending a special meeting Thursday morning arranged for the public to participate in a discussion about the Colonial Beach Police Department. He submitted a letter of resignation explaining his reasons. “I cannot justify continuing to waste my time waiting for a day to come when this town, and its elected leaders face up to hard decisions that will come, no matter what the desires or sentiments exists to maintain the status quo,” Curtin said in the letter.
Free Lance-Star

Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe took two more steps to prepare for public office Thursday, forming a bipartisan committee to guide his transition and announcing that he will put his considerable wealth into a blind trust and sell his stake in two recent, controversial business ventures. “Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe and his wife Dorothy McAuliffe, with my assistance, have begun the process of establishing a blind trust for their personal assets and divesting from potential conflicts of interest,” Thomas Richardson, a partner in the law firm Arnold & Porter, said in a statement issued Thursday. “This process will be completed prior to the official inauguration in January. We will be announcing a trustee in the coming weeks who will oversee the trust for the duration of McAuliffe’s time in office.”
Washington Post

One hundred and fifty-one years after Union troops camping in Stafford County, Va. ransacked the county court house, destroying or stealing records found there, two of the documents came home Thursday. In a brief ceremony Thursday morning at Stafford, George Bresnick of South Worthington, Mass. who found the papers in a neighbor’s attic trunk and researched their origin, handed them over to County Clerk of Court Barbara Decatur. Each one dealt with local farmers who had borrowed money and were slow to pay it back. Decatur said she was delighted to have the papers dating from the 1700s back where they belonged. However, there are many more that have not been returned, she said.
Washington Post

A razor-thin margin in the Virginia attorney general’s race could ultimately put the decision about a winner before the General Assembly — but the rarely used strategy of contesting an election comes with its own political consequences, analysts say. With Democrat Mark R. Herring leading Republican Mark D. Obenshain by 0.007 percent of the total statewide votes, whichever candidate is trailing when the state certifies the election results Nov. 25 is all but certain to call for a recount. And depending on the results, the candidates could conceivably contest the election. Virginia law gives the General Assembly wide latitude to act after hearing a candidate’s case. Lawmakers have the authority to reject the appeal, to order a new election or even to declare a winner — whether it is the candidate who held the lead or the candidate who contested the election. But the bar for success is extremely high. The law states that a candidate must detail “objections to the conduct or results of the election accompanied by specific allegations which, if proven true, would have a probable impact on the outcome of the election.”
Washington Times

National Stories

The U.S. government is on a data-gathering spree at Google, new data from the search giant reveals. Between January and June 2013, the U.S. government issued nearly 11,000 requests to Google asking for user information, or about 42 percent of the global total.

Environmental Protection Agency officials are using reproduction fees to delay or avoid releasing documents under the Freedom of Information Act, two conservative think tanks said in a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Free Market Environmental Law Clinic and the Energy and Environment Legal Institute requested communications related to a proposed Northwest coal export terminal in July. The EPA denied fee waivers for the request, even though both groups are supposed to be granted waivers as nonprofits disseminating information for public benefit.
Washington Examiner

Frustrations bubbled to the surface Wednesday during a meeting of a Connecticut task forceweighing victim privacy against public disclosure laws with members on both sides of the debate seemingly entrenched in their positions. The panel was created under a hastily-passed law intended to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. The law never received a public hearing but it created the group — made up of both open government and victim advocates — to weigh the issues and make recommendations to the legislature by January. But it’s been slow going.
Ct News Junkie

The Central Intelligence Agency is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union — including transactions into and out of the United States — under the same law that the National Security Agency uses for its huge database of Americans’ phone records, according to current and former government officials. The C.I.A. financial records program, which the officials said was authorized by provisions in the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programs is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete.
New York Times

The Federal Communications Commission released an app on Thursday that the agency hopes will help it generate an accurate comparison of wireless carriers' mobile broadband speeds. The app, dubbed Speed Test App for Android, is designed to collect information about the performance of participating smartphone users' mobile broadband services nationwide. The four major US carriers have agreed to participate.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has leaked as many as 200,000 classified documents to reporters, according to NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander. Alexander made the estimate in an address to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs Oct. 31. In the transcript of his speech, made available Thursday, Alexander, also said the leaks increased the probability of a terrorist attack.
Fox News


Megan Rhyne, VCOG Blog: So here’s the thing: if you’re trying to make the case to the public that you really do operate in the sunshine, that you really are an open and transparent taxpayer-funded government agency, then the fact that you’re working on your own bill should have been made known up front, at the beginning of the meeting, or, even better, at the time the FOIA Council staff released its draft (Nov. 7).