Transparency News 12/24/18



December 24, 2018


The newsletter will take a break on Dec. 25 and 26. We'll return on the 27th.
(and apologies for the placeholder text I left in Friday's newsletter)


state & local news stories




“We follow the law. If something is not protected, it doesn’t matter how many warts are on there.”

As governors leave office, their administration’s records go to the state library, where they are catalogued and made available for public inspection. The first step is to review records to exclude anything that cannot legally be disclosed, such as state homeland security information, procedures of the governor’s executive protection unit, proprietary business information related to economic development deals, or confidential details of legal settlements, State Librarian Sandra Treadway said. “The day they leave office, they comply with the law, they turn things over to us, but they do not have the time to remove from what they give us anything that might be legally protected against public disclosure,” she said. That review is not, however, aimed at redacting records that might be politically sensitive, Treadway said. “We follow the law,” she said. “If something is not protected, it doesn’t matter how many warts are on there.”
The Washington Post

Concerned drivers who were stuck on Interstate 81 during last week’s snowstorm in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee called 911 looking for answers — but the dispatchers they called were looking for answers themselves. The Bristol Herald Courier filed Freedom of Information Act requests with 911 dispatch offices in Bristol, Virginia, Washington County, Virginia, and Sullivan County, Tennessee, for calls made regarding the interstate standstill. Out of the nearly 3 1/2 hours worth of 911 calls, there were a few takeaways:
Bristol Herald Courier

Warren County is looking into potential overpayments it made to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority through the help of a financial consultant. After a Friday closed session in which accounting and debt services were discussed, the Board of Supervisors approved a $90,000 expenditure, which will be drawn from its contingency funds, to pay an unidentified financial consultant. The decision comes after Town Finance Director B.J. Wilson said in October that the town is owed by the EDA at least $291,000 stemming from overpayments related to debt service spanning back to at least 2009. While the county has not released any figures on what it may be owed by the EDA, the release states that the county is “hopeful” the consultant will finish the audit process within the next month and determine “specifically what is owed” to both the town and county.
The Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

A majority of proposals cities submitted to Amazon during its HQ2 bidding process are still not public. It’s now been more than a year since Amazon released its second headquarters RFP, and weeks since it announced Greater D.C. and New York City as its split HQ2 locations. Through two rounds of records requests and extensive research, MuckRock was only able to find 82 of the 238 proposals the e-commerce company says it received. Of proposals that have been made public, some were released preemptively by cities trying to maintain transparency. Others were obtained by MuckRock and other news outlets through records requests and FOIA lawsuits. Here’s a map of proposals MuckRock requested, obtained, or learned of through research. 

Two startups located in Little Rock and Jonesboro (Arkansas) posted the highest scores among the nearly 200 medical marijuana dispensary applications that were unexpectedly released late Thursday afternoon (Dec. 20) by the state Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC). The Freedom of Information (FOIA) document dump comes one day after the five-person MMC board, chaired by Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman, postponed a highly-anticipated meeting scheduled for Wednesday to announce the dispensary scores from a pool of nearly 198 applications until new board members are seated at a rescheduled meeting on Jan. 9. According to Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin, the dispensary scores were released in response to numerous FOIA requests concerning a recently completed review by Boston-based Public Consulting Group (PCG).

The Iowa Public Information Board twice broke the same law it is tasked with enforcing when it met in private last year and then refused to specify what action it took, according an Iowa Ombudsman report released Thursday. The meetings involved a still-ongoing public records case of a 2015 accidental fatal shooting of Autumn Steele in front of her toddler by a Burlington police officer. Iowa’s public meetings law requires final actions be made in public. The board contends the discussions centered on a settlement in the case and that it committed no wrongdoing.
Des Moines Register




"The Iowa Public Information Board twice broke the same law it is tasked with enforcing when it met in private last year."


editorials & columns



We hope those new wishes have a better chance than many on our 2017 list, although we are not giving up hope on those quite yet. Ideas such as a more cooperative General Assembly, a more transparent government, stronger oversight in taxpayer spending and adding a drop of decency into politics. To those ideas, there were some bright moments. The General Assembly cooperated to open judicial records for public review after the Virginia Supreme Court thwarted our attempts to do so. Legislators’ efforts were a bipartisan win for the free press and public at large.
Daily Press