Transparency News 12/5/13

Thursday, December 5, 2013
State and Local Stories


The recount of Virginia’s exceedingly tight race for attorney general will begin Dec. 16, a Richmond judge ruled Wednesday, as attorneys for the two candidates sparred over the procedures that will govern the ballot tally. State Sen. Mark R. Herring, a Democrat from Loudoun County, edged state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, a Harrisonburg Republican, by 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, the State Board of Elections certified last week. It was the closest statewide margin in Virginia history and one that entitled Obenshain to request a recount paid for by localities. Before the count, election officials across the state will race to test their equipment and make sure they’re prepared for a busy week. “There’s going to be a lot of activity between now and Christmas, and it’s not all going to be Christmas shopping,” said Herring attorney Kevin J. Hamilton.
Washington Post

The Hampton Police Division is looking to change the way it interacts with its citizens, 140 characters at a time. Gearing up its efforts over the last two months or so, it has taken to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, to share information on anything from details of a recent Walgreens robbery to a distracted driving public service announcement to notes of appreciation from citizens. In that time Hampton police public information officers Cpl. Mary Shackelford and Sgt. Jason Price have been working with 23-year-old Officer Leon Robertson, who often shoots videos — from Crime of the Week information to community messages, and all unscripted — and helps manage the police department's Facebook and YouTube pages.
Daily Press

Virginia has historically prided itself on its relative lack of government scandals.
But recent events — namely when Gov. Bob McDonnell accepted significant gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams — have prompted concern over the state’s system of ethical checks and balances, leaving some to question whether the law goes far enough in holding its governing officials financially accountable. This question was a highlighted at a statewide meeting of media organizations Wednesday, where a panel of experts debated the solution to the ethics dilemma.
Register & Bee

As ongoing state and federal investigations hover over Gov. Bob McDonnell in his final weeks in the executive mansion, McDonnell's successor has called for reform to an ethical code that some say is riddled with gray areas and gaps. Some legislators and open government groups are echoing that call. Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe laid out his plans to rein in the system that allowed McDonnell to accept more than $160,000 in gifts and loans from the CEO of Star Scientific, a dietary supplement company. Speaking before a crowd of journalists at Associated Press Day at the Capital, McAuliffereiterated his proposal for a $100 cap on gifts for all members of the executive branch. He added the cap on gifts would include his family. He called for increasing penalties for violating ethics laws and increasing the powers of the Inspector General's Office in order to establish an independent ethics panel.

On the morning of Nov. 6, the day after the general election, it appeared that Republican Mark Obenshain had eked out a razor-thin victory over Democrat Mark Herring to become Virginia’s next Attorney General. Like most hotly-contested political battles, the close race generated even closer scrutiny. National political analyst David Wasserman, with the Cook Political Report, thought there were anomalies in the absentee ballot totals for Fairfax County, which had been expected to vote strongly Democratic. Meanwhile, Brian Schoeneman, the senior GOP appointee to Fairfax County’s three-member Electoral Board, was in the midst of a post-election canvass, his first since being appointed to the board last spring. Essentially, a canvass is checking and double-checking Election Day votes, the purpose of which is to catch inevitable human errors. Schoeneman’s transparency and his willingness to explore what went wrong on election night thrust him into the epicenter of partisan politics. While his actions earned him the respect of many Democrats, both locally and nationally, Schoeneman also earned the wrath of some in his own party, who weren’t happy that Fairfax County’s revised count turned the tide in favor of Democrat Mark Herring. "Anyone who knows Brian knows that he is honest to a fault, and will do everything in his power to make the (election) process as fair and transparent as possible," said Cameron Quinn, Fairfax County’s general registrar.
McLean Connection

National Stories

In a major victory for citizens, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has sharply constrained the right of public agencies to charge for access to public records. In a formal opinion, Horne said documents must be subject to inspection at public offices without any charge at all. He said that applies even if the agency has to make a copy to redact certain private information . Horne also said individuals are free to use their own equipment to make copies without having to pay a fee. Attorney Dan Barr, who represents the First Amendment Coalition, said the opinion is a real game-changer.
Arizona Daily Star

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) will begin live streaming proceedings on Monday. It will be the first federal court of appeals to do so, according to the Los Angeles Times. All en banc rulings, which consist of the chief judge and 10 jurists, will be streamed. The first case it will show deals with whether or not law enforcement can collect DNA when they arrest someone. The 9th Circuit is one of only two federal appellate courts that allow news media cameras in the courtroom. It consists of nine western states and two Pacific island jurisdictions.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

An online, interactive database comparing spending on athletics vs. spending on academics in public Division I institutions is being released Wednesday by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, as concern grows over the imbalance of the two core activities at many universities. This is a followup to a 2010 report by the Commission which called for greater transparency in athletics spending.
USA Today

Researchers have unearthed an online database full to the brim of stolen account information from popular services including Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and Google. On Tuesday, the security team at Trustwave's SpiderLabs revealed in a blog post that the database contained 1.58 million stolen usernames and passwords. The login credentials were associated with 318,121 Facebook accounts, 21,708 Twitter accounts, 54,437 Google-based accounts, and 59,549 Yahoo accounts. The database also contained approximately 320,000 stolen email account credentials. The remaining number of compromised accounts on the server were FTP accounts, remote desktop details, and secure shells.

Major news organizations are proceeding cautiously Tuesday following the court-ordered release of the 911 calls from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which gun shots and panicked school employees can be overheard. NBC News said it's not airing the tapes on TV or its websites, citing the opposition against the release by victims' families and others in Newtown, Conn. Quotes and information from the calls will be used in its reports. "The families of the victims of the Newtown shootings made it public that they did not want the 911 tapes to be released. Unless there is any compelling editorial reason to play the tapes, I would like to respect their wishes," wrote NBC News President Deborah Turness in a staff memo Tuesday morning before the recordings were made available.
USA Today

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared reluctant to give First Amendment protection to a California peace activist who has been barred from demonstrating at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Hearing arguments in the case United States v. Apel, most justices seemed eager to avoid a First Amendment ruling, preferring instead to base their decision on a federal law that the government says gives base commanders broad power to control public access to military installations. John Dennis Apel, who says he has demonstrated at the base regularly for the past 17 years, was barred from doing so after he vandalized a base sign in 2003 by splashing his own blood on it. But Apel argued that he should still be able to participate in protests in an area outside the base that has been reserved for free speech activities since 1989. The land is owned by the Air Force, but county and state governments have easements because it is adjacent to Route 1, a public highway.
National Law Journal


News & Advance: A group in Charlottesville is working on just such a nonpartisan approach to redistricting. Its goal is to take political redistricting out of the hands of the politicians and move it to a nonpartisan panel of judges and legislators to oversee all future state redistricting. Although there’s no language for such legislation, the organizers are talking about getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot by November 2016. The bipartisan effort, he said, includes such Democrats as state Sen. Creigh Deeds and such Republicans as Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce has added its support to the movement. “There was all the reason in the world to support better governance and really no reason to oppose this,” said Timothy Hulbert, chamber president. Voters should choose their public servants, not the other way around, he said.