Transparency News 2/27/14

Thursday, February 27, 2014
State and Local Stories


Alexandria City Manager Rashad M. Young has announced the appointment of Craig T. Fifer as Acting Director of Communications and Public Information for the City of Alexandria, effective Wednesday. Fifer succeeds Tony M. Castrilli, who has accepted the position of director of Public Affairs for Fairfax County. "Craig brings more than 20 years of public service to this position, and has helped drive Alexandria’s award-winning use of communications and technology," said City Manager Young.
Del Ray Patch
(Fifer is the president of the VCOG Board of Directors)

Shenandoah County leaders clashed again this week over one supervisor's request for information from the school system. School Board Chairman Richard L. Koontz Jr. spoke to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday about how the division handles information requests. Koontz's remarks came in response to District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey's request for school employee salary data. Bailey has protested the estimated cost for her request and claims it shouldn't take 14 hours of staff time to produce the information. Koontz said his board has a policy it uses when members ask for information. A consensus of the School Board must support one member's request for information in order for that request to go through. Otherwise the board does not pursue the request, Koontz explained.
Northern Virginia Daily

Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones broke federal lobbying rules only "inadvertantly," according to an inspector general who testified before a Congressional committee Wednesday morning. Other high-ranking officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development where Jones used to work not only pushed an aggressive lobbying effort in violation of HUD policies, but also tried to avoid scrutiny when the department's investigatory arm starting asking questions, HUD Inspector General David Montoya testified Wednesday.
Daily Press

The House of Delegates on Wednesday unanimously passed a Senate ethics reform package designed to tighten Virginia’s ethics laws. Senate Bill 649, which is almost identical to a proposal that a House committee hammered out over several weeks, puts a $250 cap on gifts from lobbyists and anyone with business before the state, and it creates an ethics advisory council that will oversee and update Virginia’s financial disclosure system. The House included an amendment proposed by Del. Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax, that would prohibit the governor and attorney general from accepting tangible gifts from representatives of corporations in litigation with the state. “(Former Attorney General) Ken Cuccinelli’s turkey dinner paid for by Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams brought the problem to our attention, and my amendment basically makes this conduct illegal,” Surovell said.

A Chesterfield County developer withdrew a controversial plan for a major development Wednesday night moments before it was likely to be rejected by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors had been considering the housing plan that would have cut the developer’s fees at a time when officials are considering raising property taxes or slashing services to address budget issues. The developer, Terraforge Inc., pulled the plan after more than an hour of public comment, most of which was opposed to its approval. Carrie E. Coyner, the development’s attorney and a Chesterfield School Board member, tried to ease some concerns by introducing a new offer on cash proffers. Coyner has come under pressure for working with developers looking to waive or lower cash proffers at a time when the county is struggling to figure out how to pay its bills.

The Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved a resolution expressing “strong dissatisfaction”  with a recent decision by the region’s transportation board. At issue is a change in the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s bylaws that, according to Spotsylvania’s resolution,  “undermines the stated FAMPO objective of valuing and inviting input.”  The rule, approved earlier this month, says FAMPO cannot vote on an issue unless a motion has been put forward and seconded by members from different localities. The resolution asks the planning organization—whose membership includes elected officials from the city of Fredericksburg, and Stafford and Spotsylvania counties—to reconsider the bylaw amendment.
Free Lance-Star

National Stories

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday unanimously passed the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, paving the way for more streamlined Freedom of Information Act request processing and a stronger role for the independent agency charged with reviewing government compliance. H. B. 1211 creates a presumption of openness, allowing a document to be withheld only if an agency “reasonably foresees that disclosure would cause specific identifiable harm to an interest protected by an exemption, or if disclosure is prohibited by law.” Current FOIA law simply instructs agencies to release non-exempt information, rather than starting from the presumption that all information should be released and only then applying narrow exemptions.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled against an antiwar protester who was convicted of breaking federal law by entering an area set aside for protests near the main entrance to Vandenberg Air Force Base, from which he had been barred. The court’s opinion, by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., involved the interpretation of a federal law that made such re-entries a crime, and it turned on an assessment of the scope of a base commander’s authority over property controlled by the military. The court declined to address the First Amendment questions in the case, though two concurring justices indicated that they were substantial.
New York Times

Is the Cost of 311 Systems Worth the Price of Knowing? / 311 systems have revolutionized the way cities gather information, allowing them to tackle small problems before they get too big. But running them can be extremely costly.

More than 33,000 pages of confidential Clinton White House documents that were legally set to become public last year have been kept private, Fox News has confirmed -- but some of them could be released in the near future.  The documents have been withheld from public access at the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas, longer than the 12 years typically allowed. Of the 33,000 documents, more than 20,000 pages have been cleared for release by the Obama administration. Some have speculated that the documents may contain new scandals that could prove problematic for a potential 2016 presidential run by Hillary Clinton. Because the documents are under federal jurisdiction, President Obama theoretically has control over their release.
Fox News

(Naples, Fla.) Watchdog City Press reporter Gina Edwards filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to defend the public’s right to know by challenging a $556 illegal and retaliatory fee for electronic public records charged to her by Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock following publication of her investigative stories. “The fees imposed by the Clerk of Court for these county records significantly harms the public’s right to know about government actions in Collier County, and they need to be challenged in court,” said Edwards, who is the owner of Naples City Desk, a digital newspaper that publishes at Brock’s office charged a $556 fee in response to its Feb. 7 public records request for an electronic scanned copy of Brock’s audit policy and procedures manual, and for a scanned electronic copy of an email attachment referenced in a consultant’s report and the response by Brock’s staff to that document.
Watchdog City

Justin Bieber walks unsteadily and even appears to stumble while performing a sobriety test shortly after his January arrest on driving under the influence and other charges, according to police video released Wednesday. Only a few moments depict Bieber in the roughly 10 hours of video released by Miami-Dade County prosecutors following public records requests from The Associated Press and other news organizations.
Yahoo! News

The Montana Democratic Party is calling on Steve Daines, a Republican congressman running for Senate, to release his birth certificate. The unusual request, typically the province of birthers on the right who question where President Barack Obama was born, comes as Daines has regularly been describing himself as a “fifth-generation Montanan” in commercials, press releases and on the stump. The congressman was born in Southern California, and he was quoted in a 2002 Bozeman Daily Chronicle story, describing himself as a “third-generation Montanan.”


The golden rule of gerrymandering is to stick it to the other guys, just as they once stuck it to you. It's a rule that saps voters' faith in their leaders and promotes heathenish behavior in the halls of the state Capitol. A handful of do-gooders have long preached the evils of gerrymandering, but the legislators who profit from its corruption remain unrepentant. And why should they repent? In last year's House elections, 45 of 100 delegates were uncontested. Just 14 races were truly competitive, with a victory margin of 10 percentage points or fewer. The fruit of gerrymandering is eternal incumbency without labor — a temptation for any politician.
Daily Progress