Transparency News 1/14/20



January 14, 2020

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state & local news stories



Hundreds of people stood in line at the Virginia Capitol Monday morning waiting to attend General Assembly. New security regulations enacted over the weekend by state Democrats now require all public visitors and state staffers to pass through metal detectors before entering legislative buildings. Aside from the metal detectors, the new security rules also banned all firearms in legislative buildings. A Capitol Police spokesperson said the agency is not releasing the number of people present at the Capitol Monday morning due to security concerns. 

A lawsuit filed as a result of the public firing of the director of the Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services in mid-2018 still is working its way through the court system. More than a year after the Pittsylvania County Social Services Board fired director Sherry Flanagan, which followed allegations of a hostile work environment and corruption, Flanagan still is pushing a $4 million defamation and wrongful termination suit. The premise of the suit, which originally was filed in Roanoke Circuit Court last April before being transferred to Roanoke Federal District Court in June, is that Flanagan was wrongfully terminated as a result of a “stigmatizing and defamatory public smear campaign” intended “to rally County community members to advance a political agenda and weaken DSS autonomy and authority,” according to the complaint.
Register & Bee

The West Virginia Senate adopted a resolution Monday reminding Frederick County of a 158-year-old invitation to become the state’s 56th county. State Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan County, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 Friday requesting that citizens of Frederick County consider joining West Virginia. The resolution now heads to the West Virginia House of Delegates for consideration. Trump acknowledged that he hasn’t talked with officials in Frederick County to gauge their interest in letting the voters choose whether to join West Virginia or not, but he hoped his resolution helped get the conversation started. “Personally, though we have great respect for our neighbors in West Virginia and work very closely with them on a lot of issues, such as safety, I have zero interest in becoming part of West Virginia,” Frederick County Board of Supervisors Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. said.
The Winchester Star

stories of national interest

When a sport utility vehicle swerved out of its lane several weeks ago, slamming into a pickup truck and killing a teenager, a reporter from The Northeast Georgian raced to the scene. Within hours, the paper had posted the news on Facebook and updated it twice. It was shared by hundreds of people on the social network. The fatal wreck consumed the town of Cornelia, Ga., nestled near the Chattahoochee National Forest about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta. The Northeast Georgian was the first to report the news, but unless the people who shared its story on Facebook follow a link to its website, either to see an ad or to subscribe to its twice-weekly print edition, the paper won’t get paid. As with many small papers across the country, that business strategy is not working for The Northeast Georgian. The paper’s five employees do not just report and write. They also edit the articles, take photographs and lay out the newspaper. But the tough economics facing small newspapers like Mr. NeSmith’s has generated rare bipartisan agreement in Washington. Anger toward big technology companies has led to multiple antitrust investigations, calls for a new federal data privacy law and criticism of the companies’ political ad policies. Perhaps no issue about the tech companies, though, has united lawmakers in the Capitol like the decimation of local news.
New York Times

City district attorneys don’t have to publicly name all the officers who have made their controversial “bad cop” lists — even those who have lied on the job, a judge has ruled. The adverse credibility findings lists — which includes officers whose testimony could weaken cases because they are being sued, accused of misconduct or gave prior testimony that was later tossed — are exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Law and are instead tantamount to attorneys’ private notes, Manhattan civil court Judge W. Franc Perry ruled Friday in a 2018 suit by former Manhattan prosecutor Andrew Stengel seeking the Manhattan DA’s list.
New York Post

Juul Labs Inc. received roughly 2,600 complaints about adverse health effects related to its e-cigarette during its first three years in operation, with customers citing issues such as burning sensations in the lungs, blistered lips and vomiting, according to an internal report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The report, which was released to Bloomberg News under the federal Freedom of Information Act, contains few details about the anonymous consumers’ complaints or health outcomes. It cites only one “serious adverse event,” in which a woman reported that her throat bled after she used a Juul product. 

Los Angeles County, California, confirmed it was the target of a phishing attack last month, which staff detected and contained before it exposed any county resident data. According to a statement emailed to Government Technology today from the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office, the county detected malware activity on Dec. 19 from a phishing email — a scam that aims to steal a recipient’s personal information by getting them to click on a link or attachment. The phishing email came from a third party whose account and distribution list had been compromised by an unidentified attacker, and it was sent to more than two dozen county employees. L.A. County — the most populous in the nation — has more than 40,000 personal computers, 13,000 mobile phones and 800 network locations for its government, according to its website. The Internal Services Department also supports the Countywide Integrated Radio System, which ensures critical services in an emergency.

A taxpayer watchdog is slapping the Department of Health and Human Services with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit after the agency failed to provide requested records and videos related to its animal testing. White Coat Waste Project sued the department, which houses the National Institutes of Health, last month. The organization filed FOIA requests for documents related to intramural primate experiments conducted by NIH twice last year. After months of attempts to gain the public records, NIH stopped responding and has not provided the materials. In the lawsuit obtained by the Washington Examiner, White Coat Waste Project claimed NIH acknowledged that it videotaped the experiments and confirmed the existence of the footage to the taxpayer watchdog.
Washington Examiner