Transparency News, 3/13/2023


March 13, 2023

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state & local news stories


VCOG's annual conference
FOI Day -- March 16
Info and registration here

A new report finds Virginia's state agencies are failing to post key Freedom of Information Act links. The report from the Virginia Coalition for Open Government finds of 114 state agency websites, less than 12% provided [all of the] information about the rights and responsibilities of Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. On 11% of websites, the information simply couldn't be found. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said improvement requires commitment. "The rules have been in place for a long long time," said Rhyne, "and I understand that sometimes there's going to be a disconnect between the people who create websites and the ones who do FOIA. You know, they might not be talking to each other. But, it's just really a statutory requirement."
Public Service News (includes link to report)

Thursday’s Spotsylvania County School Board meeting was the first since member Kirk Twigg was indicted by a grand jury, and while a motion was made to remove him from all committee assignments, it was voted down. The charge Twigg is facing, forging a public record, is a Class 4 felony that carries a potential prison sentence of two to 10 years. He was also charged with a misdemeanor offense of tampering with a county record. Thursday’s meeting was originally scheduled for Monday, but was canceled and rescheduled as a special meeting. The posted agenda was identical to Monday’s, but with the exclusion of public and board member comments. The meeting started with board Chair Lisa Phelps warning that interruptions, distractions or raising issues about any member’s “health or personal issues” could result in a recess or adjournment. Within minutes, board member Nicole Cole, attending the meeting by phone, made a motion to remove Twigg from the committees on which he serves. As Cole made the motion, Phelps interrupted her, saying they weren’t discussing personal matters. Cole said it was a “matter related to the board, and I have freedom of my discussion so please do not interrupt me.”
The Free Lance-Star

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office is accusing former Prince William County general registrar Michele White of altering local results from the 2020 presidential election – an allegation tied to her September 2022 indictment that was revealed for the first time Friday, March 10 during a pre-trial hearing.  A grand jury indicted White last year on charges of corruption, lying on a state form and neglect of duty. But Miyares' office has refused to detail the specific allegations underlying the charges and only partially revealed them during the March 10 hearing in Prince William County Circuit Court.  Before Judge Carroll Weimer, Jr., Miyares’ office alleged that White, 51, of Occoquan, altered election results within the state election reporting system known as VERIS, and that her alterations resulted in the inaccurate reporting of Prince William County’s presidential election results to the state. White “swore falsely to those election returns,” prosecutors said in court. 
Prince William Times

stories of national interest

"With fewer newspapers able to wage costly fights for open government, this public service is increasingly provided by nonprofits."

While the pundits continue to speculate whether President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden put national security at risk by hoarding these secrets, that ultimately might not be the biggest problem.  It doesn't do much good to file a Freedom of Information Act request for records that have mysteriously disappeared. Misbehavior like this is why we created The Foilies, our annual tongue-in-cheek “awards” for agencies and officials that thwart the public's right to government information or otherwise respond outrageously to requests for documents and records. Each year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock News, in partnership with the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, publish this list of ne'er-do-wells to celebrate Sunshine Week (March 12-18)—an annual event to raise the profile of the democratic concept of government transparency.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

The public still cannot submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the CIA or other prominent agencies through the national FOIA, seven years after Congress required the building of a website that allows “the public to submit a request to any agency from a single website.” Three out of four federal agencies do not even mention on their individual agency websites, with many funneling FOIA requesters through independent portals with varying degrees of functionality, leaving them unaware of a more simplified way to file a FOIA request. Those attempting to file FOIA requests with the CIA on are informed that, “Currently, this agency’s FOIA system is not linked to” The CIA isn’t alone. The State Department still does not accept submissions through the portal, nor do the National Security Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizen and Immigration Services, or the FBI.
National Security Archives

Following a FOIA by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas Tech released documents in relation to the separation between the University and former head men’s basketball coach Mark Adams.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

With fewer newspapers able to wage costly fights for open government, this public service is increasingly provided by nonprofits. That includes 39 open-government groups fighting for transparency across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Guam, allied as the National Freedom of Information Coalition. The coalition recently elected Jeff Roberts, a former Denver Post journalist, to be its president, succeeding Arizona journalism professor David Cuillier. Because Roberts is a leader in efforts to keep the public informed, a victim of the news industry’s contraction and part of Colorado’s resurgent local-media ecosystem, I wanted to learn more about his plans.
The Seattle Times

editorials & columns

"If we do not look beyond official statements and soundbites we don’t get close to the truth about how our government functions."

Sunshine Week is our annual chance to educate while we celebrate the freedom of information about our government we as citizens are entitled to.  Without so-called sunshine laws, those in power would be able to make important actions on complex issues that impact your lives shrouded in secrecy. Even with laws meant to prevent that, attempts are still made. We must stay vigilant.  Despite a decidedly unfriendly current climate for many journalists covering city halls, courthouses and both state and White houses, we have an obligation to push forward. If we do not look beyond official statements and soundbites we don’t get close to the truth about how our government functions.
Suffolk News-Herald

Once again, we wait for the sun to shine in Michigan.  At the same time, we wait for the sun to shine on our local and state government. Taxpayers deserve to know what the people who work for them are doing. We are the only state in the country that does not subject its legislators and governor to the Freedom of Information Act. That needs to be fixed. At the same time, some local government officials, law enforcement agencies and schools — kindergarten through university — cry foul and call FOIA a burden. We think it’s an essential service. 
The Detroit News