Transparency News 11/20/13

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority spent nearly $200,000 to replace the locks on thousands of public housing units after a set of master keys was stolen from the vehicle of an on-call maintenance worker. The massive rekeying was done with no fanfare in the spring after the master keys were stolen in March. Housing authority officials included the work, which involved both replacing entire locks and replacing lock cylinders, in routine capital improvements in at least six of the communities it manages. The Richmond Times-Dispatch received copies of seven invoices for the work after making a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

The trustees of the Fairfax County Public Library want to eliminate the process that led to the trashing of hundreds of thousands of books and also throw out a controversial plan to reduce the number of librarians and children’s services in county branches, the trustee board’s chair said Tuesday. The trustees also said they were not kept informed of the major proposed changes in the library’s operations, by longtime library director Sam Clay, and that they had learned of that new discard policy through media reports. The trustees asked the Fairfax Board of Supervisors to improve spending on library materials, which they said fell from $6.33 per capita in 2000 to $2.11 per capita in 2011, far below the U.S. average of $5.90.
Washington Post

National Stories

Yesterday the Sunlight Foundation filed its very first Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. In May 2013, we sent a FOIA request to the General Services Administration  requesting a copy of all contract notices that had been posted on since 2000. These notices would allow members of the press, researchers and our developers to analyze government spending patterns, to look for inaccuracies, corruption and waste. is a government website where contracting opportunities and awards are posted. It also includes notices when something is sole-sourced without competition. However, most of these notices are archived soon after their posting and the FedBizOpps advanced search requires knowledge of the exact solicitation to really find what you're looking for. This prevents the public from researching the original solicitations when a contract goes bad.
Sunlight Foundation

To compile its report “Medicare’s Failure to Track Doctors Wastes Billions on Name-Brand Drugs,” ProPublica obtained data via the Freedom of Information Act on the prescriptions written by more than 1.6 million providers in the Medicare Part D program in 2011. Our analysis focused on the nearly 364,000 providers who wrote at least 50 prescriptions, including refills, for one drug. For each provider, we calculated a name-brand dispensing rate, and for comparison, we determined the overall rate for every medical specialty in each state.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday in favor of the governor and Kia Motors Manufacturing in an open records dispute over hiring records. A Fulton County Superior Court judge had refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four people who were among about 43,000 who applied for jobs at the Kia plant in West Point. The four say they were discriminated against because they had been affiliated with the United Auto Workers labor union.
Athens Banner-Herald

When it cited executive privilege in refusing to disclose emails requested by New Mexico In Depth last month, the state's Human Services Department violated an executive order Gov. Susana Martinez signed the day she took office. And though the Governor’s Office recently chastised Human Services for inappropriately citing executive privilege to withhold documents, an attorney for the governor still directed HSD to keep the emails secret.
New Mexico In Depth

The mass tracking of the public’s telephone calls by the National Security Agency has a “corrosive effect” on the ability of the news media to report on crucial issues and “frightens sources into silence,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 13 news organizations argued in a brief filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco (Northern District of California). The friend-of-the-court brief was filed in support of a challenge by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the NSA’s phone data collection program. EFF and 22 member and political advocacy organizations argue that the NSA practice violates the First Amendment right of association, as well as the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and the USA PATRIOT Act.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press


News & Advance: A relatively contrite Gov. Bob McDonnell conceded last week that his financial entanglements with a wealthy political benefactor undermined the people’s trust in him. But he went on to tell a national television audience that he followed the law and did not abuse his position as governor. The Virginia law that he says he followed is a pathetic effort to limit the size and number of gifts from special interests to officials elected to the General Assembly and to statewide office. The one bright spot to come out of this sorry episode in Virginia government is that the legislature and the new administration of Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe will take seriously efforts to make financial reporting laws much stricter for the state’s politicians.

Jeff Schapiro, Times-Dispatch: Virginians are angry their governor, Bob McDonnell, is tangled in a federal criminal investigation. They’re angrier that they’re paying part of his legal bill — more than $570,000, so far. “The taxpayer is getting hosed,” says Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax. He was one of the first Democrats to publicly demand McDonnell resign because of Giftgate. It’s the scandal over pricey handouts from a diet pill impresario that could lead to the Republican’s indictment by a grand jury, perhaps soon. Petersen continues, “What was a criminal action of no consequence — the case with the mansion chef pleading out a first-degree misdemeanor, the equivalent of reckless driving — is now one in which we have $570,000 in legal fees. Who asked for that? Who benefited from that? Where is the accountability?” It is not a question easily answered. It is generating more questions because of arcane state laws that control the hiring of private lawyers by and for public officials. It is the interpretation of those laws — by, among others, the attorney general cum defeated GOP gubernatorial candidate — that further clouds this issue. That could cost taxpayers more.