Transparency News 3/11/19



March 11, 2019


Eventbrite - ACCESS 2019: VCOG's Open Government Conference
April 11 | Hampton University
Early-bird pricing good through March 16


state & local news stories




March 10 - 16

To celebrate Sunshine Week, the FOIA Council and Fairfax County are offering a FOIA training session Friday, March 15,  at the Fairfax County Government Center. The training is geared toward FOIA officers -- and will qualify for the annual training required by statute -- but is open to the public, too. It's free, but you have to register.

Economic interest forms are just one source the newspaper reviews to hold government officials accountable. The newspaper recently requested, obtained and reviewed more than 1,500 pages of local economic interest forms for this story. The form is called Statement of Economic Interest, which employees of state agencies, judges, members of governing bodies and school boards and local government employees are required to file twice a year. Listed is information such as employment, personal debt, stocks owned, property owned, payments for meetings and conferences attended and gifts received. Forms filed by Virginia lawmakers and state employees are available online, but the ones at the local level are only available upon request through the board or council clerks, creating extra steps for the public to obtain them. The reason local forms aren’t in the database comes down mostly to cost.
The Roanoke Times

After a year of public records requests and scrutiny, the county’s social services board is in talks with Pittsylvania County about receiving county official email addresses for its board members to better respond to open records requests. The conversation came up after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in October from the Danville Register & Bee for all emails from board members during a period before and after the firing of former social services director Sherry Flanagan. Aside from the supervisors’ liaison, all social services board members use the personal email addresses they had prior to their appointments to conduct board business as they aren’t automatically provided official email addresses by the county. None of the members of Pittsylvania County’s local boards, such as the planning commission, social services board, the service authority or board of zoning appeals, are provided an official email address to ensure easier access by a staff member should an open records request arise.
Register & Bee


stories of national interest

Five minutes late, Darrell Todd Maurina sweeps into a meeting room and plugs in his laptop computer. He places a Wi-Fi hotspot on the table and turns on a digital recorder. The earplug in his left ear is attached to a police scanner in his pants pocket. Maurina, who posts his work to Facebook, represents the press — in its entirety. He is the only person who has come to the Pulaski County (Missouri) courthouse to tell residents what their commissioners are up to, the only one who will report on their deliberations about how to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency so it will pay to repair a road inundated during a 2013 flood. Last September, this community in central Missouri's Ozark hills became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, it joined more than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina.

After high-profile sexual misconduct cases in schools, Maryland took a step Thursday toward joining a growing number of states enacting legislation to prevent teachers with records of misconduct from moving school-to-school. The Maryland House of Delegates voted 140-0 to ban nondisclosure agreements involving sexual abuse for school employees who have direct contact with children. The measure, which now goes to the state's Senate, also would require prospective school employers to conduct a thorough review of applicants' employment history. Several states have passed legislation in recent years to stop what supporters of the measure often refer to as "passing the trash."
Star Tribune

Two months before the Labor Department reversed course and proposed a lengthy delay for a regulation to bar retirement account brokers from financial conflicts of interest, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta met with legislators and industry representatives who opposed the rule. Evidence of the meetings surfaced in more than 1,000 documentsthat the watchdog group American Oversight acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. A POLITICO analysis of the documents shows that Republicans and business representatives occupied most of Acosta's schedule during his first eight months as labor secretary.





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editorials & columns



"Citizens usually start out wanting answers to something personal to them, but they often find themselves tracking down information that impacts all citizens."

How often have you seen something in your community, something that’s part of your regular routine, and noticed that it’s just not quite the same as it used to be? And haven’t you often asked yourself, “Hmm, I wonder why that is?” If that’s happened to you, you should meet Lee Albright and his wife, Paulette, who retired to Nelson County some years ago. They aren’t alone, though. There are many, many heroes among us. Citizens who use FOIA to understand why. Citizens usually start out wanting answers to something personal to them, but they often find themselves tracking down information that impacts all citizens.
Megan Rhyne, Bristol Herald Courier
Bacon’s Rebellion
The Free Lance-Star

Every week is Sunshine Week at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where we work diligently to present factual, objective and accurate stories that let you know what’s going on — whether they’re about local government, schools, politics, sports, businesses, arts, food or the community. Reporters scour budgets and any number of other documents to glean information that will help tell the story. But public entities aren’t always immediately forthcoming to share public records. Sunshine Week provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of a free press and the role it plays in good governance. Our democracy depends on it.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The sun will come up today. It will come up tomorrow, too. That much is guaranteed by physics. Whether the sun shines through to us on the ground depends on how much cloud cover there is, but rest assured the sun is still shining somewhere. Sunshine in government is not always so guaranteed, however. Human nature inclines toward secrecy and easy solutions, and often it’s simply easier for governments to keep things secret than to make them public. Do you care about how your tax dollars are spent? Do you care about whether state regulations are consistently applied? Then you care about the Freedom of Information Act. Here are some of the details:
The Roanoke Times

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, a national and state designation that calls attention to the critical importance of the transparency and accountability all levels of government owe to their constituencies. Let us be clear: Any public information — whether minutes to a meeting or a database or records — should be obtainable and able to be scrutinized through FOIA. Constant vigilance is needed on the part of the public and the press to keep these laws strong. Here at the Daily Press reporters have used FOIA to uncover information and report stories on several topics in the last year. 
Daily Press
The Virginian-Pilot

Oh, Florida, you’ve given America so much over the past two decades. Hanging chads and the 2000 presidential election that dragged on for more than a month. Tales of giant alligators prowling the trailer park resorts. Pictures of massive sinkholes opening up and swallowing houses whole. And, of course, those wacky news stories about the ubiquitous “Florida man.” But thanks to editors at newspapers throughout the state following the state legislature’s attempt in 2002 to gut Florida’s open records laws, there’s one thing Americans of all stripes can be glad originated in Florida: Sunshine Week. But why now? Why in the middle of March? Well, it all focuses on James Madison, the third president of the United States and father of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, who was born March 16, 1751.
The News & Advance
Danville Register & Bee

No one thinks government spending should go unchecked and unexamined, yet politicians are keeping more secrets. Voters and the media need to fight back.
Ken Paulson, USA Today