Transparency News 1/16/20



January 16, 2020

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state & local news stories



After about a year and a half of being shut down, Old City Cemetery’s online burial records database is back up and running. Those conducting general history, genealogy or medical research are now able to use the free database through the cemetery’s website to access the records of more than 61,000 people of Lynchburg. The records include birth and death dates, funeral home names, ethnicities, causes of death, family members and notes known about the person’s life. The former database was hacked in February 2018 and had been down ever since. Thanks to help from 434 Marketing, which created an upgraded and secure database, and the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation which paid for half of the $6,500 funding it took to create the platform, anyone with access to a computer is just a click away from discovering more about those laid to rest in the cemetery. About 20 years ago, former Old City Cemetery Executive Director Ted Delaney, who is now director of the Lynchburg Museum System, began cataloging some of the burial records to receive college credit while studying at the University of Virginia.
The News & Advance

At a Tuesday Strasburg Town Council meeting, Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup defended the mayor’s character. He also asked town attorney Nathan Miller how the council might protect itself in a legal case that would put the council at odds with the mayor. Defending Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. from dissenters who have attacked his credibility, Terndrup said the mayor has always been supportive of him and respectful to the public at town meetings. Terndrup’s words followed months of criticism Orndorff has received around the community and on social media after an incident on May 17 when he crashed a John Deere Gator into the town library. The vehicle was on loan from Shenandoah County Public Schools for use during the town’s Mayfest event. “Does the council majority have the authority to limit access to confidential information from the mayor if the council is involved in a legal entanglement with that mayor?” Terndrup asked. Miller said the mayor would have access to information available to council members, “as long as it’s available to the entire council.” Addressing the meaning of “confidential,” Miller said information available through the Freedom of Information Act would not be considered confidential.
The Northern Virginia Daily

At its annual organizational meeting last Wednesday, the newly seated Chesterfield Board of Supervisors approved a procedural change that some citizens fear will reduce transparency on property zoning cases. Previously, when a rezoning applicant made changes to a case after publicly advertising it, a rule dictated that the case be automatically deferred to the following month’s meeting agenda to give board members and interested citizens more time to review the changes. By a 4-1 vote last week, the board eliminated that rule. Dale District Supervisor Jim Holland opposed the measure, citing citizens’ concerns that applicants potentially could amend their cases at the last minute and insert terms that adversely impact neighboring property owners. “Knowledge is power,” he said. “This [rule change] may be perceived as circumventing the citizens and even sitting supervisors on zoning cases. A supervisor may not have time, just before a board meeting, to analyze the impact of proposed changes [to a particular case].” The previous board’s procedures “served the citizens well and protected them from applicants who would try to take advantage of the supervisor of their district,” Holland added. Chesterfield’s two new supervisors, Kevin Carroll (Matoaca) and Jim Ingle (Bermuda), disagreed with that assessment. They noted the meeting procedures adopted by their predecessors gave them the ability to waive the “automatic deferral” clause by unanimous vote and hear zoning cases that had post-advertisement changes. Moreover, they were unable to identify even one instance in which a supervisor made a motion to waive the rule and the other board members declined to do so.
Chesterfield Observer

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has sent Loudoun Sheriff Michael L. Chapman a letter warning him about violating a critic’s constitutional rights by blocking him on Facebook. The alert was based on a precedent set in a lawsuit in Loudoun County, but a year later there continues to be disagreement over how to interpret the rules. In a letter dated Jan. 6, the ACLU warned Chapman, “Such actions violate the right of free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 12 of the Constitution of Virginia if they are based on the content of the messages being blocked.” The complaint to the ACLU was filed by former Loudoun detective Mark McCaffrey, who unsuccessfully battled Chapman in court when he lost his job because he had supported the sheriff’s challenger in a Republican Party primary. His wrongful termination case ended in November when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal of lower court rulings denying his claim. McCaffrey continues to be a vocal critic of the sheriff.

stories of national interest

The National Freedom of Information Coalition is pleased to announce the publication of its latest research, “Legislating Open Government: The Prevalence of Transparency-Related Language in 2019 State Legislative Bills.” The report is a culmination of a months-long pilot project analyzing all bills introduced in 2019 sessions across the U.S. in conjunction with Quorum, a Washington D.C.-based software company. More than three-fourths of NFOIC’s state coalition members say that tracking their legislative sessions for bills that impact their state’s open government laws is a critical need — and a challenging task. Since most state legislatures do not prominently identify introduced transparency-related bills, many coalitions must rely on labor-intensive methods to single out and track them. NFOIC sought a technology solution to automate and better identify and track these bills.

Sen. Roy Blunt said Tuesday that there will be restrictions to public and press access during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, including periods when the Senate chamber is cleared of reporters. The bulk of the trial will be broadcast on television. But during certain periods of debate, the Senate will go into closed session under its impeachment rules, the Missouri Republican told reporters. “I mean closed session. I mean there will be nobody there but senators and essential staff. No cameras, no C-Span, no coverage, what the rules say happened last time,” said Blunt, the Senate Rules chairman and a member of Senate GOP leadership, referring to restrictions in place during former President Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial.

The U.S. Navy says the Pentagon has top secret-classified briefing slides and secret-classified video about a UFO incident, Vice reports. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, a spokesperson for the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) confirmed that the documents and video pertain to a UFO sighting reported in November 2004, according to Vice. The Navy added that the “Original Classification Authority” determined that if the materials were released, it “would cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States.”

Who helped the financier Jeffrey Epstein abuse scores of underage girls and young women? Although Epstein was found dead in a New York City jail last summer, a list of names of wealthy and well-connected people who may have helped him commit his crimes lives on. The possible enablers could be named in a batch of sealed court documents filed in a civil lawsuit between one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, and his former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who is said to have procured him vulnerable, underage victims. Now a federal judge has decided that some of those documents will remain sealed — for now.


"Since most state legislatures do not prominently identify introduced transparency-related bills, many coalitions must rely on labor-intensive methods to single out and track them."