Transparency News, 11/6/2018


November 6, 2018


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state & local news stories

November 27

Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments in Bergano v. Virginia Beacha FOIA case about access to detailed billing records of outside attorneys. The city redacted everything but the total amount billed, and argued Friday that redaction was needed to protect the attorney-client privilege and litigation strategy. Listen to the oral arguments here.
Supreme Court of Virginia

Josiah Pollard Rowe III, the former owner and publisher of The Free Lance–Star, a two-time Fredericksburg mayor and tennis player who was a driving force to establish two local indoor tennis complexes, died Saturday afternoon at his home, surrounded by his family. He was 90. He graduated from Washington and Lee University and studied printing management at the Carnegie Institute of Technology for a semester. When their father died in 1949, Rowe and his brother, Charles S. Rowe, were called home to manage the newspaper. Under the Rowes’ leadership, The Free Lance–Star’s circulation grew from 6,437 to a high of 50,000 as a seven-day newspaper, and the business was expanded to include WFLS and Time magazine picked the paper as an outstanding small daily in 1984, citing among other things its “determined efforts in the area of freedom of information.” The paper earned similar recognition from the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism in 1989.
The Free Lance-Star

A human resources consultant from outside the Virginia Department of Social Services is investigating allegations of bullying and workplace harassment within the agency’s headquarters. Virginia DSS internally announced the investigation via email on Oct. 25, two weeks after the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that complaints about bullying and workplace harassment within the DSS Division of Child Support Enforcement headquarters have been ignored within the agency, according to six sources who spoke to The Times-Dispatch on condition of anonymity because they feared job loss or a threat to their careers. Multiple sources said a contractor was fired about 10 days after making a complaint with human resources about workplace harassment. The email was sent to some, but not all, of the employees in the Division of Child Support Enforcement home office and some field employees, and they could all see who was — and was not — on the email. The email did not mention confidentiality. The Times-Dispatch obtained the email from multiple sources. The Times-Dispatch asked Larson and Cletisha Lovelace, a spokeswoman for DSS, if the investigation was confidential, if participants would be protected against retaliation per state policy, and why the email was not sent to all employees of the division’s home office. “Consistent with our practice, we do not comment on personnel matters,” Lovelace wrote in an email. “This is an ongoing, internal investigation and any details regarding this matter will be withheld from public release at this time.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

On Monday, Martinsville officials turned over all the evidence they collected in a investigation involving Henricopolis to the city’s Commonwealth Attorney, as well as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office and U.S Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Thomas Cullen’s office.“We can't comment at this time, even to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation by our office or the receipt or referral of any materials or information for another entity or government agency,” said Brian McGinn, public affairs specialist for Cullen’s office. The results of the city’s year-long investigation will also not be made public, at least not yet. In May, Martinsville City Attorney Eric Monday filed a request with the city court, which was granted by Judge Carter Greer, to seal all information, documents or other evidence collected during the city’s investigation. In a document filed Oct. 30 with the court, Monday asked for that order to be amended, allowing the city to pass on the information to the multiple attorneys. Included in the Oct. 30 filing is a request that “all investigative materials shall remain exempt from disclosure to any other third parties, and exempt from disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act until, such time as the City and the three offices listed herein have concluded such criminal or civil action as they deem appropriate to undertake, or at the discretion of the entities named herein.”
Martinsville Bulletin

The town of Altavista soon will invest in new equipment and software for its police officers that will help them better communicate and coordinate with dispatch and one another.  Altavista Police Chief Tommy Merricks said he is planning to sign up for a software suite that will replace the police department’s current records-management system, which is “at the end of its useful life.” The records management and computer-aided dispatch will allow officers to communicate, generate reports and access records or other information from computers in their cruisers and mobile apps.
The News & Advance


national stories of interest

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 13 media organizations are urging the Supreme Court of California to review and reverse a Court of Appeal decision that would make it harder for journalists and researchers to access large sets of data under the state's public records act.  The case involves researchers' request for demographic information about California Bar Examination applicants from 1972 to 2008. The State Bar of California refused the request, citing privacy concerns. The researchers then amended the request and proposed multiple methods for anonymizing the data so that no one's identity would be revealed. But the California Court of Appeal ruled that the State Bar did not have to provide the information because they claimed anonymizing the data constituted the creation of a new record, which the government is not required to do under the California Public Records Act.  
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press