Transparency News 3/13/19



March 13, 2019


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


state & local news stories




"I just feel like local officials can cause the greatest harm or the greatest good in the shortest amount of time."

Charlottesville officials want to help residents understand the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. For that purpose, there will be a public forum later this month featuring Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. According to a release, the forum is designed to talk about topics related to the state FOIA, featuring presentations from Rhyne and City Attorney John Blair. There will also be a question and answer session for the audience.

Keeping the citizens of Blackstone, Virginia informed about what's happening in their backyard is a primary mission of the town's weekly newspaper, the Courier-Record. It's publisher, Billy Coleburn, wants his readers to be fully aware of decisions made by the town's leaders. "I just feel like local officials can cause the greatest harm or the greatest good in the shortest amount of time," Coleburn said. When Coleburn talks about local officials, he's including himself. He's been the town's mayor for 12 years. Even in his unique position of power, Coleburn is not always able to gather the information he thinks his readers deserve to know, especially when crimes happen. "Police is a big issue, because they can always say 'that investigation sir, even though it's 29 years old, is still ongoing," Coleburn explained. :That word ongoing is basically a license to shield."

Anyone interested in looking at the gubernatorial records of possible presidential candidate Terry McAuliffe will be out of luck. A bill to end years of secrecy surrounding the records of previous governors going back to Tim Kaine didn’t make it out of a conference committee of the General Assembly last month after the Library of Virginia estimated it would cost more than $3.6 million by 2025. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, filed the bill, which would have required that records of past governors be made public online within one year. “I think both the House and Senate agreed to the policy consideration, but there was not sufficient money available in the budget to make it happen this year,” Gilbert said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney discussed the department’s internal affairs review process with the city’s initial Police Civilian Review Board on Tuesday. Some speakers mentioned the data that Brackney released last week, saying it’s not enough and serves no purpose. Brackney has provided data on individual arrests, such as the name of the person arrested, when and where they were apprehended and any charges filed. The data doesn’t include the race of the person arrested, although it is recorded but not pulled into the open data system.
The Daily Progress

The Winchester police officer who investigated a sexual battery accusation against city attorney Howard Jason Manheimer is accused of purposely deleting a text from the accuser because it allegedly showed she was lying about her timeline of the allegations.
The Winchester Star

In the years before the Bristol Commons helicopter crash, an anonymous tipster and neurologist worked to stop the pilot from ever flying again. But the FAA has said none of its regulations could have prevented him from getting behind the controls in the first place. Diagnoses of dementia, cognitive decline, tremors and Parkinson’s disease did not stop Henry Schwarz from stepping into his Robinson R-44 helicopter and crashing, according to records provided to The Virginia Gazette by the Federal Aviation Administration under the Freedom of Information Act. At every step before the crash, Schwarz fought the FAA and his doctor in an attempt to regain his medical certificate, which was revoked in 2016.
The Virginia Gazette

Join our Facebook Live FOIA-records event at 12:30 TODAY!

editorials & columns



"Many credit VCOG for working and advocating for open government in Virginia. But as I see every day, it is the citizens of this state who deserve the kudos and credit."

Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act is so pocked with exemptions, it is hard to imagine new ways the General Assembly could poke more holes in it. Yet legislators found new and creative ways during the 2019 session to perforate the commonwealth’s public records laws, further diminishing their ability to provide the transparency the public deserves.  The most glaring example will create more secrecy in the already dark hole that is the Virginia Lottery. A law that takes effect July 1 allows state officials to keep secret the names of anyone who wins a lottery prize larger than $10 million. Versions of the law were proposed in both chambers under the guise of protecting winners who claim large sums. No matter the threshold for secrecy was arbitrarily set — and woe to the person who wins $9.9 million. Add it onto the pile of more than 170 exemptions in the commonwealth’s open government laws. Virginia must be better a reducing the number of exemptions in its FOIA. Gov. Mills Godwin signed the state’s version into law in 1968, and the General Assembly has since created more than 170 exemptions, an average of more than three per year.
The Virginian-Pilot
Daily Press

Many credit our organization for working and advocating for open government in Virginia. But as I see every day — in the calls, emails and even Tweets I receive — it is the citizens of this state who deserve the kudos and credit. They are the ones using the tools given to them by law to hold their governments accountable. They are the real heroes.
Megan Rhyne, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Daily Press
The Virginian-Pilot

Last week, journalists and transparency advocates applauded when a judge tossed out a defamation case brought by University of Florida professor Kevin Folta against Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Eric Lipton of the New York Times. In his ruling, the judge stated that Folta’s assertion that his emails were not public records “borders on the nonsensical” and affirmed the “fair report” privilege of Lipton’s story that documented Folta’s cozy ties to Monsanto.
Paul D. Thacker on Medium