Transparency News 2/18/20



February 18, 2020

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state & local news stories



The Senate subcommittee hearing two bills on university foundation reporting recommended both of them for passage by the full committee, which will hear them on Thursday morning (8 a.m.). Today, a House subcommittee will hear several bills recommended by the FOIA Council and being carried by the council's chair, Sen. Richard Stuart.

When a California Congressman can sue a cow (well, the guy who tweets as a cow) in a Virginia court under our 1810 anti-dueling law, it may be time, a few Virginia legislators say, to rethink how we handle lawsuits that seem mainly aimed at silencing criticism. The challenge, says Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, is how to rein what have come to be known as strategic lawsuits to limit public participation, also called a SLAPP, while honoring some of the peculiarities of Virginia law. In Virginia now, if a judge eventually finds the lawsuit is frivolous, people who have had the expense of defending themselves can seek reimbursement of legal fees -- but as VanValkenburg sees things, that’s not a real answer to lawsuits like Nunes’ that aim “to gum up the works and make people afraid to speak.” He thinks the answer is to set up a way to pull the plug on such lawsuits early on, by authorizing a special motion to dismiss the charge, which -- unlike the usual motions to dismiss -- allow the discovery of evidence in order to show a judge that a suit is simply intended as a kind of harassment to shut a critic up.
Daily Press

stories of national interest

An investigation of concerns raised about the Bristol Tennessee director of schools’ academic credentials and whether he was properly vetted before he was hired is being conducted by the school board’s attorney, the chairman of the board said Monday. Questions about whether Director of Schools Tom Sisk has the academic credentials he claims and whether his use of the title “doctor” is appropriate have been raised by Sullivan County Commissioner Mark Hutton. Sisk, 54, who was hired in September, has signed his name as “Tom Sisk, Ph.D., NCSS,” and his LinkedIn states he has a doctorate in numismatics, the study of coins and currency. However, the resume on file with the school system does not state that he has a doctorate. The Bristol Herald Courier revealed last week that Sisk’s doctorate is from Ashwood University, an online school that is not accredited through any agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Pyle added that the board was advised by its attorney, Lewis Thomason, not to make any further public comments about concerns surrounding Sisk.
Bristol Herald Courier

Late one night in 2012, James Lee Hernandez was scrolling through a subgroup on Reddit where users share curious factoids and bizarre trivia, when a headline caught his eye: “Today I Learned Nobody Really Won the McDonald’s Monopoly Game.” His interest piqued, Hernandez clicked on the post, which linked to a story in a Jacksonville, Fla., newspaper about a small circle of scammers who swindled McDonald’s for more than a decade. “I needed to know more and kept looking,” recalled the filmmaker, whose first job as a teenager was at a McDonald’s in the ’90s, the height of Monopoly-mania. “But couldn’t really find a lot.” After initial reports about arrests made by the FBI in 2001, the online trail grew cold, so he filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request. And waited. And made follow-up calls. And waited some more. About three years after filing the FOIA request, Hernandez finally received a trove of court documents related to the case.  Hernandez and Lazarte received boxes of additional material from the FBI and the Department of Justice that hadn’t been opened since 2004 — “It was seriously like finding the golden ticket,” says Hernandez.
Los Angeles Times



"[They] received boxes of additional material from the FBI and the Department of Justice that hadn’t been opened since 2004 — 'It was seriously like finding the golden ticket.'"


editorials & columns

"We believe that 'economic development' should be viewed as a democratic process."

At the Richmond City Council meeting on Feb. 10, we watched the long lines of speakers against and for the Navy Hill project, with hope for the future of our city. Democracy can be messy and acrimonious. But the commitment and dedication by the citizens of Richmond offer us a portrait of its beauty. The City Council’s resolution calling for a new request for proposals outlines a new beginning developing the Navy Hill area. We believe, however, there is need for deeper reflection and community conversation on some fundamental questions even before we embark on another potential project. We believe that “economic development” should be viewed as a democratic process that simultaneously enhances a community’s standard of living and creates economic opportunity by deliberately broadening who benefits from these opportunities.
Richmond Times-Dispatch