Transparency News 11/19/13

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Hanover Board of Supervisors will once again take up the issue of wanting to relax the rules for how many board members can meet privately without triggering FOIA's meeting rules. The much-criticized plan has been rejected for study by the FOIA Council, but the board’s agenda for Nov. 21 has as part of its legislative priorities a bill directing the FOIA Council to study it.
Hanover County

The Henrico County School Board continues to refuse to say why it parted ways with former Superintendent Patrick J. Russo. “By law we can’t discuss these matters,” School Board chairwoman Beverly L. Cocke said Monday. Russo, who had been suspended by the board for months, resigned effective Friday with $186,434 in severance pay from the school system. “We did follow the laws that are laid out by the code of Virginia,” Cocke said of the board’s handling of Russo’s departure. “When you take the oath of office and swear to uphold these laws, your hands really are tied.” Other board members declined to speak on the matter Monday, deferring all comment to the chairwoman. “I’m not at liberty to issue any comment beyond what has already been stated by the chairwoman,” said Robert G. “Rob” Boyle Jr., an interim board member filling Winston’s former seat.

Arlington public schools are kicking off a competition Monday that invites data analysts from around the country to help solve one of the most vexing problems in public education: how to keep kids from dropping out. The school system plans to select up to 10 data teams to analyze a trove of student data to spot previously unnoticed trends that could, if addressed early, improve student outcomes.
Washington Post

The Virginia Department of Education has unveiled a new instructional video about the history and culture of the 11 state-recognized American Indian tribes. It's entitled The Virginia Indians: Meet the Tribes. The department says the video features Keenan Stewart, a fifth-grader at Charles City Elementary School and a member of the Chickahominy tribe, answering classmates' questions about the state's tribes. The video can be found on the Virginia's First People Past and Present website at . The website is designed as an instructional guide for elementary, middle and high school teachers. It includes information, maps, lesson plans, links and other resources.
News & Advance

National Stories

Iowa's practice of keeping secret some arbitration decisions that uphold or strike down the firings of unionized state workers is legal, according to a ruling from the Iowa Public Information Board. The board on Thursday rejected a complaint filed by The Associated Press, which argued that the practice violates Iowa's public records law and gives special treatment to union employees. The practice allows the Department of Administrative Services and unions who represent fired employees to decide which decisions will be made public. When they want to keep decisions secret, they do not send a copy to the Public Employment Relations Board, which pays the arbitrators and makes the decisions public online.
Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

For more than half a century, a committee of cultural heavyweights has met behind closed doors, its deliberations kept secret, weighing the faces and images of Americana worthy of gracing U.S. postage stamps. While its rulings have been advisory, they long carried the weight of writ. Now comes a youngster from across the seas. He isn’t what these leading lights from the fields of arts and letters, athletics, and philately had in mind. For one, he seems kind of crass to some. And worse, he isn’t even American. On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service is scheduled to release 20 postage stamps honoring Harry Potter, and officials at the cash-strapped agency hope the images, drawn straight from the Warner Bros. movies, will be the biggest blockbuster since the Elvis Presley stamp 20 years ago. But the selection of the British boy wizard is creating a stir in the cloistered world of postage-stamp policy. The Postal Service has bypassed the panel charged with researching and recommending subjects for new stamps, and the members are rankled, not least of all because Potter is a foreigner, several members said.
Washington Post

The Obama administration released hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents related to National Security Agency surveillance late Monday, including an 87-page ruling in which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court first approved a program to systematically track Americans’ emails during the Bush administration. “The raw volume of the proposed collection is enormous,” wrote Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who was then the chief judge on the secret surveillance court. The government censored the date of her ruling in the publicly released document, and many sections — including a description of what she had been told about terrorism threats — were heavily redacted. The ruling was among a trove of documents that were declassified and made public by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, including those by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
New York Times

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear a challenge to the National Security Agency’s policy of doing mass collection of phone and electronic communications. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the request with the Court, asking it to overturn an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. EPIC’s request was unusual because the group did not go first to any lower courts to challenge the surveillance court's order, arguing instead that the Supreme Court was the only one eligible to hear the case. The group was specifically challenging an order from the FISA Court that authorized Verizon to release millions of phone records to the government. -
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Massachusetts secretary of state’s office has ruled that the Boston public schools wrongfully withheld overall ratings of teacher performance at individual schools this summer in violation of the state’s public records law and ordered officials to release the data. The School Department said it would comply with Friday’s ruling. “In the days ahead we will make this information publicly available so we can be fully transparent,” said interim Superintendent John McDonough in a statement Sunday. The data are the first to be generated under a new job evaluation system that could offer families valuable information on the quality of instruction at each of the city’s schools. The system deems whether a teacher’s performance is exemplary, proficient, in need of improvement, or unsatisfactory.
Boston Globe


Michael Paul Williams, Times-DispatchThe Henrico County School Board has some explaining to do, and it can’t hide behind its lawyers forever. Russo, whose resignation was accepted last week by the School Board, had worn out his welcome among school employees. They greeted his interim replacement like a conquering hero. His coziness with former School Board member Diana D. Winston and her businessman husband, Joe — whose promotional-products company kept doing business with the school district after his wife’s election — had created an untenable situation.

Daily Press: As his term in office nears conclusion, Gov. Bob McDonnell should use the waning weeks to make a positive and lasting change to how public officials operate in the commonwealth. He should support more stringent ethics laws that limit the type of impropriety that has tainted his time as governor. Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe made ethics reform a key part of his campaign platform and may prove to be an ally for Mr. McDonnell if he commits himself to winning passage of stronger ethics laws. Not only could the issue cultivate bipartisan support during a time of transition, but it serves the long-term needs of the commonwealth.