Transparency News 2/7/20



February 7, 2020

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state & local news stories



Mr. Richard Hawkins of Midlothian, Virginia has filed a Petition for Mandamus under the Freedom of Information Act with the Mecklenburg County Circuit Court against the Town of South Hill. The Petition calls for the Court to “review all withheld documents, to reject the exemptions asserted by the Town, to order the Town to produce the requested documents, and to order all other appropriate relief." The Petition comes after Mr. Hawkins made three separate FOIA requests for the Town to produce a number of documents related to the employment of former Finance Director, Kathryn Bigalow, the job description of Town Manager, Kim Callis, complaints from citizens against Callis, cell phone records for Callis,“any employment contracts in force with respect to Kim Callis,” and EEOC Complaints made by current or former employees received by the Town. 
South Hill Enterprise

The Hampton Roads jail that befell scrutiny over the circumstances surrounding the 2015 death of a mentally ill man — prompting the state to begin investigations of jail deaths in Virginia — is now pushing back against the investigations, according to a document obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The state panel created to examine inmate deaths has accused Hampton Roads Regional Jail of failing to cooperate with a state investigation of three deaths at the Portsmouth facility dating to December 2018 — conduct that one official described as a “blatant attempt to frustrate” investigations by the Virginia Board of Corrections. In a sternly worded letter to jail Superintendent David Hackworth dated Jan. 29, the chairman of the board’s jail review committee, William Dean, said the jail’s response to requests for investigative records of the inmate deaths “is wholly inadequate” and does not comply with board regulations.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

As a fatal fire burned at a Glade Spring Mini-Storage unit last month, a handful of witnesses reported seeing smoke in a series of 911 calls. The calls made on the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 18, were obtained from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office through a Freedom of Information Act request. “I don’t know if this has been reported yet or not, but I just got off the Glade Spring exit … and as I was getting off the exit I saw smoke to my right,” a woman told a dispatcher at 1:33 p.m.
Bristol Herald Courier

stories of national interest

The Hamilton County (Tennessee) Attorney's Office destroyed 98% of records requested by the Times Free Press, amid a disagreement over reasonable charges. The fight for the records, which were requested six months ago this week, continued past the destruction of the records for four months before the office admitted destroying the more than 1,400 pages of documents in question. Questions about the office's compliance with public records laws were raised in the summer of 2019 when county attorneys initially unlawfully denied a different request by the paper, asserting that they do not provide any records from their office, despite serving as the custodian of county general records. "If it comes into [the county attorney's] office, it's privileged," records coordinator Dana Beltramo said in July, "Our stuff is off limits." County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, who participated in the meeting as well as discussions about the Times Free Press request and fees, denies the destruction was related in any way to the paper's request.
Chattanooga Times Free Press

Human rights activists and immigration lawyers are concerned over a new policy allowing Customs and Border Protection to withhold certain agency-related information from the public. The Nation first reported on Tuesday that CBP was granted a "security agency" designation Jan. 31. The new policy grants CBP an additional layer of secrecy by keeping the names of all its officers and other kinds of records from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, also known as FOIA.
NBC News

The tradition in most states is for governors to begin the year with the broadest agenda-setting speech they will deliver: the State of the State address. For the past several years, the Government Technology editorial team has picked apart these speeches, looking for clues about new initiatives and areas of focus that will touch technology. These references can be broad, like a mention of a need to “modernize” an agency, which will likely include a tech overhaul, or they can be specific, such as a discussion about the need for more cybersecurity funding to protect citizen data. Over the years, topics like digital service delivery, cybersecurity and broadband have come up more frequently, indicating that these issues are on the minds of policymakers and the citizens they serve more than ever before. Increasingly, governors are using their platforms to underscore the importance of making sure all residents, regardless of where they live, have options to get online. Internet access has profound impacts on opportunities in education, jobs, health care and nearly every other facet of modern life. The language used to describe getting connected has been slowly shifting: In 2020, broadband is now viewed as critical infrastructure, governors are prioritizing it as such, and it’s not a partisan issue.

"If it comes into [the county attorney's] office, it's privileged. Our stuff is off limits."