Transparency News 12/6/13

Friday, December 6, 2013
State and Local Stories


The FOIA Council met yesterday for its final meeting of the year.  We suggest that the soundtrack for this meeting should begin and end with the Imperial March. The main agenda item was the latest draft of Delegate Scott Surovell’s long-running effort to amend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to bring the SCC under FOIA, superseding the badly flawed 2011 decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia in Christian v. SCC.   An hour and a half after discussion began, it was clear that the SCC had won the battle but also that the war will rage on in the upcoming General Assembly session. The end result of yesterday’s meeting was that the FOIA Council declined, by a vote of 5-4*, to recommend adoption of Del. Surovell’s latest draft bill.  As detailed below, however, there’s much more to the story. Perhaps the meeting’s main surprise was its first speaker:  Senator John Watkins.  He announced his intent to introduce legislation in the upcoming session that will address access to SCC records in the SCC statutes of Title 12.1, not in FOIA, making it clear that he’ll be representing the SCC in the upcoming legislative duel.  Continuing to show the SCC’s commitment to transparency in a way that words alone do not, Sen. Watkins did not have an actual draft bill to present or share.
Open Virginia Law

Virginia Tech's next president is scheduled to be announced after a board of visitors meeting set for 1 p.m. Friday in Blacksburg. The board will meet at the Holtzman Alumni Center at the Inn at Virginia Tech to take up the appointment of a successor to President Charles Steger. A public vote is required to approve an employment contract for the new president. A news conference will be held at the conclusion of that meeting in the Inn's Latham Ballroom, the university's press office announced Thursday.
Roanoke Times

Merle T. Rutledge Jr. is no stranger to the federal civil justice system. Since 2009, he has filed lawsuits in federal court attempting to sue everyone from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the town of Chatham. Rutledge appeared in United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Thursday morning for a show cause hearing. During that hearing, Judge Jackson L. Kiser imposed an injunction on Rutledge barring him from being able to file pro se lawsuits in federal court without a judge’s permission first.
Register & Bee

“Human connections” will prevent Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe from adhering to his $100 limit on gifts, a veteran legislator says. “Does anyone think he won’t go around the country helping Hillary (Clinton)? If he goes on one trip, does he think he won’t violate his own rule?” asks state Delegate Bob Marshall. Taking the high road of ethics, McAuliffe campaigned on a promise to sign an executive order imposing a $100 gift cap on himself and his family. Marshall calls the pledge “a landmine” that blows a hole in accountability and transparency. Virginia Bureau

National Stories

After denying requests for a list of the salaries of the top university officials who are slated to get raises this month, the president of the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education Wednesday decided to release the information. "My fear is it's getting out of hand," President Gregory Gray said during an interview in his Hartford office Wednesday. Two leaders of the legislature's Higher Education Committee and an open government group have publicly criticized the system's decision to keep the raises a secret. "I can't remember anyone ever withholding salaries," said James H. Smith, the president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and editor of a number of state newspapers for four decades.
Republican American

A video that allegedly shows workers at the Iowa Juvenile Home mistreating a teenage girl should be withheld from the public, the leader of the Iowa Public Information Board recommended Wednesday. The video, sought by the Des Moines Register as part of its investigation into problems at the home, qualifies as a confidential treatment record under Iowa law, executive director Keith Luchtel concluded in a report. Its release would provide little new information since the incident has been described in news reports and also would harm the girl's privacy, he wrote.
Sioux City Journal

The personal information of 13,500 Louisiana residents could be at risk because of a data breach involving state-issued debit cards. JPMorgan Chase notified Louisiana's government Wednesday (Dec. 4) that someone had broken through the company's security system and the personal information of residents using debit cards provided by three state agencies could be exposed. There is no evidence that the compromised information has been maliciously used yet. Those who might be affected include: 6,000 people who received a tax refund on a debit card from the Department of Revenue; 5,300 people who received child support on a debit card from the Department of Child and Family Services; and 2,200 people who received unemployment benefits on a debit card from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

A hospital on Long Island, N.Y., says it's donating Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' birth records to the Kennedy library in Boston. The papers record the birth of "Baby Girl Bouvier" on July 28, 1929. The Wall Street Journal reports that the records document a 14-day stay at Southampton Hospital. The papers say she weighed 8 pounds, was "born healthy, slept well, nursed well" and received a "final diagnosis" of "normal infancy."

On December 14, Hartford’s WFSB-TV will not be in Newtown, Conn. “As we approach the somber anniversary of the mass shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, Channel 3 Eyewitness News has made the decision to stay out of Newtown that day out of respect for the community,” the station announced on its website Tuesday. A Newtown First Selectman asked media to stay away and give the town the chance to be together without an audience, WFSB reports.


John Long, Roanoke Times: First, some voters who cast provisional ballots in Fairfax County, a Democratic bastion, were given more time than voters in other jurisdictions to prove their ballots were legitimate. Second, Judd opined that absentee ballots were not handled consistently across the state — for instance, some localities apparently counted ballots with no voter’s signature while other places threw them out. Judd said he was “concerned about the lack of uniformity, that there be no differences in any of the localities in how votes are counted.” I am less worried about the first case than Judd is. The action of the Fairfax electoral board (which consists of two Republicans and one Democrat, incidentally) was not illegal or even improper: It exercised discretion available to local registrars in extending the deadline in certain cases. But an argument can be made that such discretion should not exist, or at best must be approved by some higher entity, and only when very good reasons are given. This would prevent the appearance of impropriety that some have already found in Fairfax.

Johnita Due, CNN: CNN was not involved in the Associated Press' litigation to gain release of the Newtown 911 calls, but I applaud the court's decision in support of open government and public access to government records.  have read and heard some of the powerful and emotional pleas of families, attorneys and their supporters who felt the 911 calls should have been withheld. Yet I fully believe that access to public records is crucial, even if painful. We can never learn the truth about our society and its ills and inspirations without full access to public documents. No matter how well-meaning public officials may be in withholding records, it should not be left to them to determine what our reality is.