Transparency News 3/12/19



March 12, 2019


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


state & local news stories




Have lunch with VCOG (virtually) and learn about making requests for records with FOIA. Celebrate Sunshine Week with our Facebook Live(and a work in progress) event tomorrow at 12:30.

For nearly four hours, while members of the State Water Control Board huddled with their attorney behind closed doors, observers we re left to wait and wonder what the board would do about the Mountain Valley Pipeline. They eventually found out what, but they’re still asking why. At a March 1 meeting, the citizen panel charged with protecting Virginia’s water voted to withdraw its earlier decision to hold a hearing on whether to revoke a water quality certification it issued for construction of the natural gas pipeline in December 2017. After emerging from a closed session, several members expressed concerns that the board lacked authority to revoke the certification. Two members of the water board — Robert Wayland, who at first favored a revocation process, and Timothy Hayes, who did not — agreed to speak individually with The Roanoke Times following the March 1 meeting. Neither would discuss what was said during the board’s closed session. But they offered explanations for the public statements made at the meeting, when several members questioned the panel’s authority to revoke the certification.
The Roanoke Times

The Virginia Beach City Council will likely take applications and interview candidates to fill the Beach District seat after three judges determined David Nygaard can no longer serve because his win was invalid. The council plans to discuss its next steps during a public meeting on Tuesday. The council will be responsible for filling the spot and that person would serve until a special election is held — likely in November. On Friday, the Circuit Court issued an opinion finding that Nygaard, a 55-year-old jeweler, didn’t plan to live at a duplex he rented before he ran for office. The judges deemed that Nygaard didn't meet the residency requirements to be eligible to run. Mayor Bobby Dyer said he would like the council to interview all of the candidates in public
The Virginian-Pilot

To commemorate Sunshine Week, we put together a list of stories that would have been impossible to tell you without the Freedom of Information Act or public statistics.  The incidents described in 'They Didn't Shoot' were within records requested by Watchdog Coach Jeff Schwaner. "It took some back and forth from the three law enforcement offices but they eventually provided the data, which was the basis for further investigating into the story," said Watchdog Coach Jeff Schwaner. Records helped shine light on how and why kids are restrained in Virginia. Without multiple local and state level Freedom of Information Act requests, reporters Fair and Schwaner wouldn't have been able to tell the public the following:
The News Leader

Becoming a candidate for office is much more complex than in the past, especially when it comes to campaign finance requirements. For that reason, Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) is offering a series of training seminars this month, including one in Christiansburg. The seminars last about two hours and are geared toward candidates and their staff and treasurers, as well as political committee treasurers. Training addresses laws and policies governing campaign finance reporting and compliance.
The Southwest Times


stories of national interest

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s failed legal battle to keep secret government-related emails and texts that he had sent and received on his personal accounts will cost taxpayers $1.18 million following a court ruling Friday. The Emanuel administration’s outside lawyers already have billed the city nearly $800,000 to handle the mayor’s fight with the Chicago Tribune and others over access to his emails and texts messages. Now, those costs have gone up further. Cook County Judge Anna M. Loftus ruled Friday that the city also has to pay the Tribune’s legal bills in the case — amounting to more than $387,000. Loftus agreed with the Tribune’s argument that the case against Emanuel was of “great public interest” and reiterated a prior finding that the mayor and his office had violated the state’s open records act. “Tribune was clearly the prevailing party in this case,” Loftus said as she announced her ruling from the bench.
Chicago Tribune

Settlements between private individuals — a corporation and a former employee, for example — can be secretive by nature, and the public isn't necessarily entitled to know details. But when a government agency is involved, those agreements must by law be disclosed to the public, with rare exceptions. Reporters in January requested five years of settlement agreements from 61 agencies — from county school boards to the governor's office — across North Carolina. Thousands of pages of documents revealed massive variations in the types and volume of cases agency lawyers have handled since 2014, some of which have plodded through the legal process for a decade or more. Several agencies had yet to provide a single page of records by the deadline for this story. Nearly a month after the original request was filed, Department of Public Instruction spokesman Drew Eliott said reporters should have directed the inquiry to the attorney general's office, which negotiates the claims. Every other state agency uses lawyers with the attorney general's office in a similar manner, but no other agency sent reporters there to get records. In contrast, several agencies responded swiftly and completely.
U.S. News & World Report




Emanuel’s failed legal battle to keep secret government-related emails and texts that he had sent and received on his personal accounts will cost taxpayers $1.18 million.


editorials & columns



Kevin Goldberg says open government laws allow citizens to ask and investigate questions such as “Is my city the next Flint?”

Sunday marks the start of Sunshine Week, an effort to highlight the role of freedom of information at all levels of the U.S. government. Kevin Goldberg, the legal counsel for the American Society of News Editors — the group that organizes Sunshine Week along with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — told VOA that one of the main goals for the week is to educate people on what it means to have an open government and why that is important.  He said open government laws allow citizens to ask and investigate questions such as “Is my city the next Flint?” referring to the town in Michigan where actions by government officials led to the contamination of local water sources beginning in 2014. He said accessing government records allows people to protect themselves and inform others. “It is important for people to understand these rights belong to everyone. It is not just a media issue,” Goldberg said.
Voice of America

he 45 words of the First Amendment have been shielding us from government interference in our core freedoms since 1791 — 228 years. Over that time, this guarantor of a “marketplace of ideas” has withstood any manner of direct challenges, including government officials of all stripes who would rather not face a watchdog press or a watchful citizen, or who see “efficiency” in not providing the details of governance to the governed. Examples of that wrong-headed thinking are all too frequent. School boards that use “executive sessions” to make decisions later reenacted publicly in Kabuki-like theatrics, law enforcement officials who hide true statistics of crime on college campuses, federal officials who provide arbitrarily redacted — and thus worthless — records, and cowardly school authorities who stifle student journalists’ reporting on serious issues to preserve reputation.
Gene Policinski, Chicago Tribune