Transparency News 11/15/18



November 15, 2018


You can smile on VCOG when you shop on Amazon. Click here!


state & local news stories

November 27

Sorry for the delayed newsletter, but I felt it wiser to drive home from Loudoun County this morning before the snow and ice hit than to do the newsletter and then leave. Why was I in Loudoun? Talking to a parents group about FOIA, FERPA and the GDCDPA, and listening to attorneys talk about procedures for getting one's child an IEP or other special needs plan. VERY informative!

Websites run by the National Weather Service total the snow as the inches pile up. This season, if you live in a rural area, you can tune to a different website to watch plows take the snow away. The Virginia Department of Transportation announced public access to an existing internal website that tracks highway equipment working around the state. This year, after two inches of snow, the public will see green icons for every government-paid plow active in VDOT territory, according to current plans. That doesn’t include municipalities such as Christiansburg, Radford and Roanoke.
The Roanoke Times

Virginia spent more than $2 million on its pitch to land one of Amazon’s second and third headquarters, largely to employ global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and a D.C.-based public relations firm. And if Hampton Roads had drawn the online retailer inside its borders, the state was prepared to offer up $60 million to improve the region's flight traffic. These numbers offer one of the first glimpses into how the state worked to land the high-paying jobs that Amazon was offering for its new headquarters. “Even if we hadn’t won, the investment would have been well worth it,” said Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the agency that led the state’s effort. According to invoices from the Partnership, massive firm McKinsey & Co. – fresh off developing the Partnership’s strategic plan – was paid $1.35 million for about seven weeks of work. The public relations firm Subject Matter was paid more than $600,000. According to invoices from the Partnership, massive firm McKinsey & Co. – fresh off developing the Partnership’s strategic plan – was paid $1.35 million for about seven weeks of work. The public relations firm Subject Matter was paid more than $600,000. “The less your competitors know, the better,” Moret said Wednesday, adding that he didn’t want any of them poking around their consultants for intel. If it had been the other way around – a city or state revealing who they had hired, for how much and what they were doing – “we would have absolutely used it,” he said.
The Virginian-Pilot

The devil is in the details, and ever since Amazon cheerfully announced on Tuesday that it is bringing half of HQ2 to Northern Virginia, skeptics and critics have found what they say are a few devils buried inside the agreement signed between the Commonwealth and the Seattle-based internet retailer. One deals with a usual point of contention — the public money that’s offered up to private companies to locate their headquarters in a specific place. The second touches on how much information about the deals can be made public. And then there’s the helicopter pad. A provision that quickly drew criticism deals with what information about the deal itself can be made public. The provision says that while “portions of certain materials, communications, data, and information” related to the deal between Amazon and Virginia are subject to disclosure under the Commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act, Amazon is to be given a two-day window to “seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy” to fight the disclosure of certain documents. While that provision isn’t new — a mid-2017 agreement between Arlington County and Nestlé has similar wording — and trade secrets and proprietary information is already excluded from public disclosure, open-government advocates worry that Amazon gains too much power under the deal.

For the better part of a year, Arlington leaders have promised that – win or lose the battle for Amazon – they would make public the incentive package they dangled in front of the corporate giant. And now, with it appearing the county government’s efforts to land the firm have resulted in a partial victory, time could be approaching for the government to show its hand. Since last January, Arlington leaders have been telling residents that they couldn’t disclose details of negotiations due to agreements with Amazon (although that apparently didn’t stop some local officials from clumsily leaking to the press, which did not seem to amuse Amazon’s top executives). But at the same time, county leaders said details of any incentive package eventually would emerge. “There’s nothing in there that couldn’t ultimately be made public,” County Board Chairman Katie Cristol surmised during a community forum in January.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring was hit with a lawsuit Wednesday aimed at unearthing the details of his efforts to bring on a lawyer to pursue climate litigation through a program paid for by billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), said he filed the lawsuit after Mr. Herring’s office refused to provide documents to support its 2017 application for a New York University law fellow to work as a “clean energy special assistant attorney general.” The Office of the Virginia Attorney General told Mr. Horner that it had no such records in response to his earlier open-records request, which he called “inconceivable.”
The Washington Times

The Waynesboro City Council met this past Tuesday to discuss, among other matters, the possibility of reducing the number of times that the body will have to consider an ordinance from two to one. Just like during the public hearing on this issue on Nov. 9, Waynesboro city attorney Melisa Michelsen was in favor of the reduction, primarily because of the increased efficiency that it would bring. In the current system, an ordinance is introduced, then the city council holds a public hearing, after which they hold a vote on the measure. The second vote comes in the form of a consent agreement a week after the initial vote, in which several ordinances are packaged together and voted on as a collective. This is what the citizens made complaints about during the public hearing section of this week’s City Council meeting. Most prominent of these was a concerned citizen by the name of Greg Bruno, a devoted attendee of city council meetings who expressed dismay that the council would be taking away an opportunity that the citizens have to voice their views on the motions that are passed.
The News Virginian


national stories of interest

Ceasefire Oregon has called on the state House of Representatives to investigate Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, for putting online the phone numbers and home addresses of the chief petitioners of a ballot measure to ban assault weapons. Penny Okamoto, executive director of the gun control advocacy group, sent an email last week to House Speaker Tina Kotek and the Oregon Ethics Commission, calling for the state House to convene a committee to investigate Post's alleged unethical behavior. The email was sent just days after Post retained his legislative seat in a race against Democrat challenger Dave McCall.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 36 media organizations are supporting HD Media and The Washington Post’s fight for the release of key data related to the ongoing opioid crisis. Approximately 1,300 mostly governmental bodies have sued pharmaceutical companies for their involvement in the opioid epidemic — the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. This case could result in billions of dollars in payouts and could impact the lives of millions of Americans. As part of the case, the Drug Enforcement Agency produced information in discovery about the number of opiate doses sold in each county by pharmaceutical companies from 2006-2014. HD Media and The Washington Post have sought release of this data, which was provided to the state and local government plaintiffs in the case, under state public records laws. However, a district court order has barred its release, citing a protective order in the litigation. The media coalition is urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reverse the district court’s ruling that would prevent the data’s release.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press