Transparency News 12/4/17

Monday, December 4, 2017

State and Local Stories

The Times-Dispatch requested the proposals the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) submitted to Amazon as part of the company's RFP process for HQ2, a $5 billion expansion the Seattle-based online retail giant announced in September. VEDP denied the Times-Dispatch request, citing three exemptions under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. Each of the exemptions is discretionary, meaning VEDP is not required to withhold the information under state law. “There’s nothing legally preventing them from disclosing the information, but under FOIA they can withhold it,” said Dick Hammerstrom, president of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and a retired editor of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

New Virginia law to prevent identification of juvenile murder victims catches police by surprise, adds to their workload.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Christiansburg Councilwoman-elect Merissa Sachs’ business, Logo Hub, has received a total of $135,900 from Christiansburg since 2010, according to figures provided by the town. Sachs, who will begin her term on Jan. 1, declined to comment about how her business relationship with the town will be affected after she begins her council duties. But she said she is currently speaking with town officials to iron out any potential issues.
The Roanoke Times

A scathing report released Friday on the city of Charlottesville’s handling of a series of white nationalist rallies over the summer criticizes the City Council and top city officials for a series of mistakes in the lead-up to the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally. The report says the city failed to share information with the public in a timely manner before the Unite the Right rally. “Uncertain as to where the event would ultimately take place, City leaders were unable to provide specific details about street closures, safety measures, and other important information,” the report says. “They left important questions from the business community, neighborhood groups, and interested citizens unanswered.” Ahead of the rally, the city hired public relations firm Powell Tate to provide strategic communications support and counsel to coordinate media engagement from Aug. 8 to Aug. 15. The report says the firm never provided “messaging” advice to the city and was barred from the command center on Aug. 12, but emails obtained by The Daily Progress show the firm did provide the City Council with talking points ahead of a council meeting following the rally.
Daily Progress

National Stories

About a decade ago, the leaders of a Florida city held a closed-door meeting to discuss how to intimidate and silence a critic named Fane Lozman. So far, their plan has not worked. Mr. Lozman calls himself “a persistent and tenacious underdog,” which may be an understatement. He is an indefatigable gadfly and an unusually successful litigant. In 2013, he won his first Supreme Court case against the city, Riviera Beach. By a 7-to-2 vote, the justices ruled that the city had misused maritime law to seize and destroy his houseboat. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. called the decision his favorite of the term. Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another appeal from Mr. Lozman. Repeat appearances in the court by the same adversaries are unusual, and they tend to involve different stages in the same case. Mr. Lozman has pulled off the rare feat of hauling the city into the Supreme Court in two separate cases. The new one has its roots in that closed-door session, which took place in June 2006. According to a transcript, which was later made public under Florida’s freedom-of-information law, the city’s leaders spoke freely about finding a way to investigate and threaten Mr. Lozman.
New York Times


WHEN THE politically charged topic of high school football players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem was discussed at a recent Spotsylvania School Board meeting, one parent questioned the decision by six of the seven board members to allow the protest on the grounds that it was constitutionally protected speech, even though many people are offended by it. “If you can restrict what my kid’s T-shirt says, I think you can restrict the actions that they take and when they take them,” Spotsylvania resident Joe McBride told board members. McBride’s remark raised a good question: Where exactly is the line that separates a student’s protected exercise of his/her First Amendment rights from punishable behavior that is considered offensive or disruptive?
Free Lance-Star

We’ve seen this spend-and-stall strategy too often. Government officials hope to delay release of potentially embarrassing public information for so long that citizens lose interest or consider it ancient history. The officials hope to draw out these battles so that news organizations think twice about their mounting legal bills. Dumb move. The information comes out because these aren’t close legal calls. The Freedom of Information Act wasn’t meant “to hide things from the citizens,” Cohen rightly said in deciding the Cook County, Illinois, Assessor Joseph Berrios case. “FOIA was meant to disclose and have total transparency of its elected officials who work for the people.” Information doesn’t belong to public officials or bureaucrats. It belongs to the public. It’s bad enough that governments try to withhold that information. It’s worse that they waste the public’s money trying to do so.
Chicago Tribune