Transparency News 2/17/20



February 17, 2020

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state & local news stories



Today I'll be watching a subcommittee of the Senate Education & Health Committee for a couple of bills, but most particularly HB1529. This bill would require university foundations (which are not subject to FOIA) to create and share with their university (which IS subject to FOIA) a record of a gift acceptance that "directs academic decision making." The point is to shed light on strings some donors may demand in exchange for their money. If you agree, consider dropping a quick note to the subcommittee members:

Riverside Regional Jail’s superintendent said in her resignation letter that the facility’s operations are plagued by dysfunction and a toxic work climate arose after the jail’s governing body failed to support her reform efforts. “Rather than assist and support my efforts to bring this jail into compliance, the Board has instead created working conditions that are so intolerable I am forced to resign,” Col. Carmen I. DeSadier, whose sudden departure came after only nine months on the job, wrote in her Feb. 7 resignation letter. DeSadier provided the resignation letter to the Richmond Times-Dispatch through one of her top commanders, who resigned Jan. 21 with similar concerns. Authority Chairman John Altman, who is Hopewell’s city manager, did not return messages seeking comment. On Thursday, he and board attorney Jeff Gore refused to release the letter or comment on its contents because they said DeSadier’s resignation was a personnel matter.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a motion to prevent the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality from moving forward with proposed environmental policy changes until the organization provides requested public documents. The request for a preliminary injunction, filed Thursday by SELC attorneys, is the latest development in a federal lawsuit from the Charlottesville-based organization against the agency. Spurred by a notice of proposed changes to the regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the lawsuit argues that requests made by the SELC under the Freedom of Information Act have not been met. Through FOIA requests, the SELC has attempted to obtain public documents that could shed light on the decision making behind the proposed changes. In the time since the SELC filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville in November 2018, the organization has only received a few responsive documents. But, according to a January motion from the Council of Environmental Quality, officials have been trying to respond “reasonably promptly” and expect to produce all responsive documents by November.
The Daily Progress

Berryville Mayor Patricia Dickinson denies doing her own investigation into Berryville Town Council Recorder Jay Arnold’s business dealings with the town. Examining invoices from Berryville Auto Parts was “just a curiosity,” Dickinson said in an interview Friday evening. “I did not expect to find anything” showing that Arnold had done anything wrong. Recent emails between Dickinson, Town Manager Keith Dalton and Assistant Town Manager/Treasurer Gregory Jacobs show the mayor asked to see invoices, which town employees have been gathering. According to Arnold, Dickinson asked to see about two years’ worth of invoices for repairs and maintenance work that his business, Berryville Auto parts, did on town-owned vehicles. He conceded that she has every right to request them. In another matter, Dickinson said she apologized to Jacobs for comments she made in a recent email that McDonald considered to be defamation of his character. Jacobs said on Friday he accepted Dickinson’s apology. In a Feb. 6 email to Dalton, Dickinson wrote, “I was surprised that the treasurer [Jacobs] is reviewing the files [Berryville Auto Parts’ invoices] before they are presented to me. I prefer to review them as is. Having the treasurer review and possibly edit them before they are made available for inspection seems to run counter to the intention of the (Virginia Freedom of Information Act) requirement that the files be open for inspection.” During Tuesday’s meeting, McDonald said Dickinson seemed to be insinuating that Jacobs may be trying to alter documents.
The Winchester Star

State Attorney General Mark Herring authorized a recent Virginia State Police (VSP) investigation into Berryville Town Council Recorder Jay Arnold's business dealings with the town. Seven misdemeanor malfeasance charges lodged against Arnold following the probe were dropped by special prosecutors from the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office after they reviewed evidence that the VSP did not see and concluded that Arnold had committed no wrongdoing. Arnold's role as recorder is similar to that of a vice mayor. an. 16, 2019, shows that roughly a month earlier, Berryville lawyer Timothy R. Johnson reported a possible violation of the state's Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) concerning the town doing business with Arnold's firm, Berryville Auto Parts. Berryville resident George Archibald obtained a copy of the summary via a request through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. During a town council meeting Tuesday night, Archibald presented council members, other town officials and the media a copy of the summary and remarks prepared by him. Archibald was able to read only some of his remarks aloud during a public comment period at the meeting because of a three-minute time limit imposed on speakers.
The Winchester Star

The Town of Purcellville could be just one step away from distancing itself more than ever from the nearly three-year-old botched investigation into its police chief. The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ratify two settlement agreements of undisclosed amounts related to a $16 million lawsuit brought against the town by Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and another legal dispute brought by a separate Police Department employee. A final outstanding lawsuit against the town, brought by Police Cpl. Kristopher Fraley, seeks $17.2 million for bodily, emotional and reputational harm resulting from his nearly 10-month suspension from October 2017 to August 2018. Once that’s settled—if it is settled before it goes to court—the town will make public the expenses it incurred to settle all three disputes, according to the motion the council voted to approve. Councilman Joel Grewe said that while he understands the concern over the Town Council having frequently met in executive sessions to discuss those legal matters, there are “good reasons” for those closed-door meetings. He emphasized that the town can’t disclose the amount of money it has spent on legal matters “yet,” but that it would as soon as it settles the Fraley lawsuit. Mayor Kwasi Fraser echoed those comments.  “We want full transparency on this but when it comes to legal matters there is that vanity of transparency versus the prudency of transparency,” he said. “Where in that realm of prudency is it prudent enough?”

stories of national interest

The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission has ruled the state police broke open record laws when the agency denied a request by the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury for dash and body camera footage of a high-speed chase and then refused to acknowledge for a time that the records existed. And in what appears to be an unprecedented move that drives home the significance of the ruling, the commission ordered the state police to receive mandatory re-training on responding to requests for public information and meeting its obligation of transparency.
Hartford Courant

Leak-hunting NYPD probers subpoenaed New York Post police bureau chief Tina Moore’s Twitter data in hope of finding out who in the department was giving her scoops. The subpoena was published on the Post’s web site Thursday, and the NYPD acknowledged it sought the data in hope of finding out who leaked police photos to Moore. “We are conducting an investigation to identify the person who leaked crime scene photos,” the NYPD’s statement said. “Tina Moore was never the focus of our investigation.” The police department’s lawyer cited the anti-terrorism Patriot Act in demanding that Twitter turn over information connected to Moore’s account from Oct. 9 to 14.

California law enforcement agencies may not be doing enough to protect the data they collect through license plate-tracking technology that police throughout the state use. State Auditor Elaine Howle released a review last Thursday of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office and three other law enforcement agencies that concluded they had “risked individuals’ privacy” by providing indiscriminate access to their collections of millions of images of license plates and not properly ensuring the security of the databases. The audit examined the policies of the Fresno and Los Angeles police departments and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to the Marin sheriff, and found they fell short of state privacy requirements.  The report also raised the possibility that the problems are widespread. The auditor’s office surveyed nearly 400 police and sheriff’s departments across California and determined that almost 70% use or plan to use a license plate-tracking system. State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who requested the audit, said he planned to introduce legislation that would incorporate its recommendations about limiting how long agencies can hold on to license plate data and with whom they can share it.


“We want full transparency on this but when it comes to legal matters there is that vanity of transparency versus the prudency of transparency. Where in that realm of prudency is it prudent enough?”