Transparency News 2/16/17

Thursday, February 16, 2017

State and Local Stories
Local governments and school divisions in Virginia already are required to keep track of their expenses and share the records with the public, if they’re requested. Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant Jr., R-Richmond, thought he had a good-government transparency bill when he filed Senate Bill 795. It would have required localities and school divisions to post records of their expenses on their websites, saving the public the time and trouble of filing FOIA requests. They weren’t having it. Sturtevant’s bill previously had passed the Senate 24-16.“It allows taxpayers, it allows the public, it allows concerned citizens to see exactly where their tax dollars are being spent,” he told the House subcommittee. Paid lobbyists representing Henrico and Loudoun county schools, the cities of Alexandria, Suffolk and Roanoke, and the town of Chincoteague rose to oppose the bill, saying their clients didn’t have the money or staff to put records online. Del. Tony O. Wilt, R-Rockingham, made a motion to kill the bill. The subcommittee, chaired by Del. Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, then killed it without a recorded vote.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
It was a bill meant to bring more transparency to government so taxpayers could see how their tax dollars were being spent. It would’ve required cities and school divisions to post their check and credit-card expenditures online. But localities saw it as an unneeded and unfunded mandate. Some cities say publishing an online database could cost $40,000 to $60,000. The information already is available in government offices and the money could be better spent elsewhere, city lobbyists said. Some of the smaller towns in Virginia don’t even have websites. Sturtevant says Goochland County does it on the cheap, posting a spreadsheet every month on its web page.
NOTE: Goochland County check register and credit card activity reports

Bills killed without consideration in committee. Members in the minority dismissed as irrelevant. Members in the majority lumping dozens of bills into a block vote to dispatch them in one sweeping vote. Those are some of the complaints from Democrats in the minority this year about the Republican majority. But when questioned about those complaints, longtime members in both parties say the same thing. Democrats were in many ways worse when they were in power, although Republicans have created new tricks of their own. Until the time Republicans seized power of the House of Delegates after the election of 1999, Democrats had a rock solid lock on control of the oldest continuous legislative bodies in the New World. And the century of unfettered control did not have a positive influence on their leadership style. Sometimes they would kill bills without ever hearing them. Other times, they would lump bills together in a block vote and kill dozens or more in a single vote. Unlike Republicans, they had a practice of sending bills to committees that never met. Democrats also had a practice of seating Republicans at opposite ends of committee rooms so they were unable to communicate and coordinate during committee meetings. One of the more infamous practices was killing bills that came to the House floor as a matter of revenge, even memorial resolutions. “Just because the Democrats ruled with an iron fist, that’s no reason for us to do the same,” said House Speaker Bill Howell. "I’m sure we both have room for improvement.”
Connection Newspapers

After an outpouring of questions from constituents and the media on how much Metro will cost Loudoun, county administration worked over the past week to gather the latest estimates. Officials presented those numbers to the Board of Supervisors' finance committee Tuesday night -- and it wasn't pretty. County staff’s presentation came after several supervisors, WMATA and county staff said they couldn't provide a ballpark on how much Loudoun would pay in annual operating and capital costs, even though some said they had been briefed on the figures and knew they were high. 
Loudoun Times-Mirror

National Stories

Tennessee lawmakers have filed dozens of bill this year that could affect a citizen’s ability to get information about their local and state government.  While it’s still early, here is a list of bills to watch.
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

The University of ­Oregon’s top lawyer is using public ­records law to get a professor’s emails to and from reporters and editors of The Register-­Guard, The ­Oregonian, the ­Oregon Daily ­Emerald, The ­Chronicle of Higher ­Education and Inside Higher Ed. The lawyer, UO General Counsel Kevin Reed, sought any emails exchanged with those publications related to the University Senate’s transparency committee during the past year. Reed said he’s a member of the transparency committee, but other committee members weren’t keeping him up to speed with committee business, so he needed the emails to find out what was happening. “I became alarmed and concerned that the Senate transparency committee was lacking transparency. I simply asked for all communications,” Reed said Tuesday. But professor Bill Harbaugh, who is chairman of the committee, said Reed’s request was “obviously designed to intimidate us,” he said.
The Register-Guard

As a candidate for president, Donald J. Trump embraced the hackers who had leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails to the press, declaring at a rally in Pennsylvania, “I love WikiLeaks!” To the cheering throngs that night, Mr. Trump marveled that “nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet.” The leakers, he said, had performed a public service by revealing what he called a scandal with no rival in United States history. Now, after less than four weeks in the Oval Office, President Trump has changed his mind. At a news conference on Wednesday and in a series of Twitter postings earlier in the day, Mr. Trump angrily accused intelligence agencies of illegally leaking information about Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser, who resigned after reports that he had lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador. But this is Washington, where leaks are common currency — and, depending what side you’re on, either sinister or patriotic.
New York Times

Missouri State Rep. Bill Lant was accused of "unprofessional and racist behavior" by a House colleague after he cut off testimony by the president of the Missouri state conference of the NAACP during a hearing Monday night. The president of the NAACP conference also asked Tuesday for Lant, R-Pineville, to be removed as chairman of the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform. The accusation followed testimony Monday night about a bill affecting the rights of employees to sue employers for workplace discrimination. During the hearing, Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel was cut off by Lant after testifying for less than two minutes. Lant said Tuesday that he was holding to the rules he laid out in his committee and insisted Chapel wasn't staying on topic, and he disputed the allegation of racism.