Transparency News, 12/30/21


December 30, 2021
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state & local news stories
A $9.35 million lawsuit from a Liberty University-connected gym owner alleging defamation against the media corporation Thomson Reuters has been tossed out. Ben Crosswhite has been a personal fitness coach to former Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. and Falwell’s wife, and paid LU $1.2 million for the athletic club property off Wiggington Road in 2016, court documents state. Reuters reported on the sale in a September 2019 article as part of Falwell’s “stewardship under scrutiny,” along with several eyebrow-raising remarks attributed to him in emails. The article quoted Falwell as writing “let’s cut him a sweet deal” in regards to Crosswhite’s purchase of the 18-acre facility. Crosswhite objected to that portrayal in his lawsuit, claiming he bought the facility for fair market value and actually was at a slight disadvantage due to maintenance issues. Moreover, his complaint, filed in March, accused Reuters of implying he had a scandalous relationship with the Falwells, likening his position to that of Giancarlo Granda, referred to in the lawsuit as the Falwells’ “infamous ‘pool boy.’”
The News & Advance

stories from around the country

An appeals court on Tuesday ruled the New York Times can maintain access to copies of legal memos belonging to conservative group Project Veritas for now, though the newspaper is still temporarily barred from publishing the materials in a case that has drawn the attention of advocates for freedom of the press. The stay, issued by the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court, is a partial win for the newspaper, which objected after a judge last week sided with Project Veritas in continuing the ban on the newspaper from publishing certain documents related to the organization. But the paper is still not allowed to publish the materials, upholding a key part of last week’s order from Justice Charles D. Wood of the state Supreme Court in Westchester County.

editorials & opinion
Back in March, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee introduced legislation to require greater transparency for foreign investments on college and university campuses and prohibit the establishment of Confucius Institutes. With respect to state government transparency, the governor should take his own advice. The state is being sued over its decision to deny public access to a report recommending how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that a contractor undertook at the request of the Lee administration. The Public Citizen Litigation Group helped file the suit against the Tennessee Department of Human Resources, which has denied access to what is without doubt a public record which, as per state law, must be made available upon request. The consulting firm provided a “government efficiency assessment and review to identify potential performance improvements and assist the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic including but not limited to cost efficiency, citizen and state employee experience, overall government effectiveness, state government department review, and fiscal benchmarking and forecasting.” This is certainly information the public is entitled to know, and there’s no legal justification for the state withholding it. 
Times News

It seems every week we read new headlines about a Delaware politician engaged in a scandal that puts their own interests above those of the people, often with no consequences. The recent failures of either chamber to take serious action with two legislators, who were both arrested and charged with assault, is a true reflection of the lack of accountability within our state government. Delaware’s laws surrounding transparency and accountability are notoriously weak. Rankings from the Center for Public Integrity gave Delaware an F for our lack of laws and systems deterring public corruption, placing us 48th among the 50 states. And it shows.
Kathleen Rutherford, Delaware Business