Transparency News 12/9/13

Monday, December 9, 2013

THANK YOU to all the wonderfully generous donors to VCOG's successful annual conference and to all those who attended and participated as speakers and panelists. We couldn't do any of the work we do with you ALL. (A final list of sponsors will be posted later this week.)

State and Local Stories


A three-judge recount court is scheduled to convene for the first time in the nearly deadlocked race for Virginia attorney general. The court is set to meet in Richmond on Monday to act on motions filed by Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain, who trails in the race by 165 votes. The judges are also expected to establish the ground rules for the recount. Starting with Fairfax County one week from Monday, electoral officials throughout the state will begin the recount. Fairfax County is getting a one-day head start because its recount is expected to take two days, and even a third.

Fredericksburg-area legislators say they’ll back ethics reform legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session, but they doubt bills will include strict limits on gifts to lawmakers. “It’s an issue I think we have to address this year,” House Speaker Bill Howell, R–Stafford, told the Fredericksburg Area Chamber of Commerce early Thursday morning during its annual pre-session meeting with legislators.
Free Lance-Star

Welcome to the 21st century, where everything, even public safety, is digitized.
At crowded Potomac Mills mall in Woodbridge, Virginia State Police on Friday announced the launch of a new initiative, the “See Something, Send Something” smart phone app. Users can send photos or texts, anonymously, to state police when they see something that’s just not right. Virginia becomes the third state in the country to launch such an app, following Louisiana and Pennsylvania respectively. Although completely anonymous for users in terms of their actual identity, any submission is traceable through a digital footprint, allowing authorities to follow up on any leads that become credible. No need to worry about privacy, though. State police say after a tip is examined it is subsequently deleted, meaning that no database of tip information will be kept after the fact.

National Stories

In advance of an expected 2016 presidential campaign, Chris Christie's administration is stepping up efforts to control the Republican governor's image at all costs — even skirting sunshine laws that permit public access to government records. Getting the Christie administration to release its grip of records tracking use of federal recovery money for Superstorm Sandy has been particularly difficult for watchdog groups and media outlets, including the Asbury Park Press. The Fair Share Housing Center recently received the first detailed information about housing recovery programs supported by federal grants — only after suing the administration for not complying with a public records request.
USA Today

A White House plan released on Friday announced new plans to make government data open to the public. The Second Open Government National Action Plan updates an earlier iteration and lists a few new open data initiatives, such as creating a formal advisory committee to govern the Freedom of Information Act, a law requiring federal agencies to share records at the request of citizens. The new plan also calls for updates in existing initiatives, such as further development, which houses federal data sources for public use.
Washington Post

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducting criminal investigations collected data on cellphone activity thousands of times last year, with each request to a phone company yielding hundreds or thousands of phone numbers of innocent Americans along with those of potential suspects. Law enforcement made more than 9,000 requests last year for what are called “tower dumps,” information on all the calls that bounced off a cellphone tower within a certain period of time, usually two or more hours, a congressional inquiry has revealed.
Washington Post

It's a secret whether or not the Rochester, N.Y., Police Department owns surveillance equipment designed to scoop up bulk data about the cellphones of thousands of people — even if that equipment was paid for with federal money, the city said recently. The city denied a Democrat and Chronicle Freedom of Information request asking whether it had purchased a device called a Stingray, a suitcase-sized device that acts as a fake cell tower and tricks all nearby phones into connecting to it and feeding data to police. The device is marketed to police for use in surveillance.
Democrat & Chronicle

A judge has blocked a New Jersey school board’s attempt to subpoena Google for the identity of an anonymous online critic suspected of making public proprietary standardized test materials. Essex County Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena temporarily restrained the Montclair Board of Education on Thursday at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union-New Jersey.
New Jersey Law Journal

Four Hoosiers, including a Fort Wayne Community Schools board member, filed suit Wednesday over an alleged Open Door violation by the Indiana State Board of Education. The group narrowly lost a ruling on the issue by the Indiana public access counselor, and now is taking the case to a judge. FWCS member Julie Hollingsworth is one of the plaintiffs. Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz initially filed the same case but it was dismissed on a legal technicality and a court did not rule on the suit’s merits.
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering asked a federal court on Thursday to authorize the release of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources records that are being sought by a Gulf Coast newspaper. Pickering’s motion, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, is in response to an order by Harrison County Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel. Gulf Publishing and the Sun Herald newspaper have been fighting Pickering for the records. On Wednesday, Schloegel ordered the documents produced by Monday, The Sun Herald reported . She had issued a similar order in October.
Hattiesburg American