Transparency News 2/4/19



February 4, 2019


Follow the bills that VCOG follows on our annual legislative bill chart.


state & local news stories




Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney is asking residents to weigh in as he chooses a new chief to lead the Richmond Police Department. Interim Chief William Smith has been filling the role since former Chief Alfred Durham retired Dec. 31. Stoney plans a five-week public engagement period followed by a three-month vetting process before he makes his decision sometime in June, according to a timeline his office released Thursday. The application will be posted online in March and advertised nationwide, Stoney’s office said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch


stories of national interest

The federal judiciary has built an imposing pay wall around its court filings, charging a preposterous 10 cents a page for electronic access to what are meant to be public records. A pending lawsuit could help tear that wall down. The costs of storing and transmitting data have plunged, approaching zero. By one estimate, the actual cost of retrieving court documents, including secure storage, is about one half of one ten-thousandth of a penny per page. But the federal judiciary charges a dime a page to use its service, called Pacer (for Public Access to Court Electronic Records). The National Veterans Legal Services Program and two other nonprofit groups filed a class action in 2016 seeking to recover what they said were systemic overcharges. “Excessive Pacer fees inhibit public understanding of the courts and thwart equal access to justice, erecting a financial barrier that many ordinary citizens are unable to clear,” they wrote. Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who served on the Federal District Court in Manhattan from 1994 to 2016 and signed a supporting brief, said the issue was straightforward. “There should be full public access to court records,” she said. “It’s an infinitesimal amount of money when you look at the total budget for the court system.”
The New York Times

A federal judge said Friday she’s considering slapping a gag order on Roger Stone, the longtime Donald Trump associate who has been on a media blitz since being charged a week ago with lying to Congress and obstructing lawmakers’ Russia investigation. In the first hearing in Stone’s case — brought by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his sprawling probe into Russian election meddling — Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she would give each side a week to offer thoughts on a potential gag order.

New Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a directive Friday aimed at making it easier to obtain public documents from state departments but stopped short of taking the same action for the governor's office, one of just two nationwide wholly exempt from open-records laws.  The Democratic governor said she "absolutely" considered using her power to open the governor's office to record requests but decided it would be better for the Legislature to send her bills to sign. Lawmakers also are not covered by the state's 43-year-old Freedom of Information Act.
Bristol Herald Courier

secret 2017 lawsuit over Racine public records that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed last fall has finally been unsealed, for the most part, after news media and open records advocates intervened. Late last week, Sandra Weidner v. the City of Racine suddenly appeared on the state's online court records system, or CCAP, along with a general docket of events in the case.  And at the Racine County Courthouse, interested people can now read the extensive pleadings, though many have had portions censored. The newly available records only make it more curious why a judge would have sealed them in the first place, while the remaining redactions beg the question of what was really driving the secrecy.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

At universities throughout the country, the two big beverage manufacturers, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, contract exclusive rights to stock vending machines and soda fountains with their products, and in September, MuckRock began asking its audience to help us understand just what else ends up in those agreements. Since then, dozens of people have responded to our call, submitting schools from the University of California (all of them) to the University of Puerto Rico. We now have a collection of more than 90 completed contract requests, revealing the terms dictating vending machine placement, extra perks for cola executives during college sporting matches, and commission rates.