Transparency News 2/17/17

Friday, February 17, 2017

State and Local Stories
An education advocate was in court again Thursday, this time in Richmond, to face a charge that she trespassed on school property. Kandise Lucas, who advocates on behalf of special needs students, was acquitted by Richmond General District Court Judge David Hicks of the misdemeanor charge.  On Nov. 1, Lucas was handcuffed by Richmond police and escorted off the property of J.H. Blackwell Elementary School at the request of Principal Wayne Scott when she would not stop filming her interactions with school officials. Lucas maintained that she had a legal right to be in the school advocating for a student, who was with her, along with the child’s parent and a School Board member. Hicks heard from only three witnesses — Durham, Bedden and Scott — and watched footage from a police officer’s body camera before dismissing the charges.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Petersburg residents who say their elected leaders are to blame for the city’s financial troubles on Thursday withdrew bids in court to oust from office the mayor and former mayor. Although good-government advocates collected the legally required number of signatures to lodge their complaints against Mayor Samuel Parham and Councilman W. Howard Myers, the cover letters accompanying those petitions were drafted after the signatures were gathered. So even if the signers knew why they were endorsing efforts to unseat the councilmen, they were not aware of the specific reasoning later presented to the court, a lawyer for Myers and Parham argued before Petersburg Circuit Court Judge Joseph Teefey on Thursday.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Choosing a city manager – the person who runs Norfolk’s government day-to-day and oversees 5,000 employees – is by many accounts the most important decision the City Council makes. When then-Manager Marcus Jones announced his departure late last year, Mayor Kenny Alexander said the process of choosing his replacement would be transparent. But in the four months since, there has been little public discussion and a series of closed-door meetings. On Thursday, the council held another closed session to discuss four search firms chosen as finalists. The city will pay the winning firm tens of thousands of dollars to find candidates for city manager. After the meeting, council members declined to say whether they’d picked a favorite.

Restricting access to only his supporters and local news reporters, whom he lambasted as “negligent” and “biased,” a local conservative blogger whom many label a “white nationalist” held a news conference Thursday to announce he’s collected enough petition signatures to have a court decide whether Charlottesville City Councilor Wes Bellamy should be removed from office. Following the event, Jason Kessler, who last fall dug up dozens of offensive tweets written by Bellamy years ago, prior to his election to the council, marched to the courthouse with about 20 supporters, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart.
Daily Progress

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has unveiled a new online tool aimed at giving customers updated information on wait times at local service centers.
Inside NOVA

National Stories

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, hoping to convince the public he supports transparency and trying to protect his legacy, released a mind-boggling 1.476 million documents on Thursday related to the ongoing City Hall bribery probe. The documents filled hundreds of white cardboard boxes, many stacked up waist high against walls and spread out over rows of tables in the cavernous old City Council chambers. Reed used some of the boxes as the backdrop for his remarks, creating a six-foot wall behind him. “These documents are being made available free of charge in the public interest,” Reed said, though he said he did the cost to the city to prepare the documents. “The only redactions are for privacy related information.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Missouri corrections officials are not required to disclose the identities of the pharmacists who supply the state’s lethal execution drugs, an appeals court ruled Tuesday. Reversing a lower court judge who had ordered the Department of Corrections to reveal their names, the Missouri Court of Appeals found that the DOC did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law by refusing to provide them. The court cited a Missouri law that gives the director of the DOC discretion to select the members of the execution team, including those who administer the lethal chemicals or gas used in executions and those who provide them with “direct support.” The same law provides that the identities of the team’s members are to be kept confidential.
St. Louis Public Radio


Thomas Jefferson railed against newspapers as "polluted vehicles" of falsehood and error. Richard Nixon tangled with reporters in the toxic atmosphere of Watergate, considering them the "enemy." Bill Clinton publicly condemned "purveyors of hatred and division" on the public air waves. Historians can point to plenty of past presidents who have sparred with the press. But they're hard-pressed to find anything that approaches the all-out attack on the media that President Donald Trump seems intent on escalating at every turn. "There has never been a kind of holistic jihad against the news media like Trump is executing," said Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley. "Trump is determined to beat and bloody the press whenever he finds himself in a hole, and that's unique."

For half a century, public records laws have been indispensable tools for disproving “alternative facts” and getting to the truth about government spending, activities and decision making. But in our state, the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) is showing its age, especially regarding access to the myriad records maintained in spreadsheets and databases by state agencies, cities, counties and other taxpayer-funded entities covered by the law. The problem isn’t that CORA, enacted in 1969, still references dated technologies such as “microfiche,” “microfilm” and “on-line bulletin boards.” It’s that the statute only vaguely implies that the public is entitled to request copies of digitized government records in useful formats that allow for analysis of the information.
Jeffrey Roberts, Denver Post

For the past seven years, anyone wanting to check the inspection history of a particular dog breeder, large-scale puppy mill, zoo or animal-research facility had only to visit the website of U.S. Department of Agriculture. There, the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service posted the written findings of inspectors who had made visits to the sites. Those days are over, at least for now. APHIS has not only scrubbed its website of all such inspection reports, it says it will “review and redact, as necessary, the lists of licensees” that identify the companies authorized to do business under the federal Animal Welfare Act. The most disturbing aspect of the new policy at APHIS is the stated rationale for it: that the publication of inspection reports might somehow infringe on individuals’ right to privacy.That sort of rationale could be applied to the entire universe of government inspection reports. What would happen if government agencies, in the interest of "privacy," restricted access to the inspection reports on child-care centers, commercial aircraft, hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, medical laboratories and slaughterhouses?
Des Moines Register
APHIS statement: Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that contain personal information covered by the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts or guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding them.
Des Moines Register