Transparency News 3/14/14

Friday, March 14, 2014

State and Local Stories  


A clerical error by former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration has essentially voided about 60 gubernatorial appointments made by McDonnell to various state boards and commissions, according to Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office. A spokeswoman for McAuliffe said McDonnell’s office forgot to forward the appointments to the General Assembly for confirmation. The McAuliffe administration said that, without legislative approval, it considers those board seats vacant, according to a letter sent to at least one appointee.


Hampton residents can now track reports of crime in their neighborhoods thanks to a tool recently implemented by city police. The Hampton Police Division has partnered, which uses Google-based mapping to track daily incident crime data to include the nature of the crime, where and when it happened and the report number, police said in a news release. The division said it is the first on the Peninsula to use the software.
Daily Press

Three high-level veterans of former governor Bob McDonnell's administration, two with South Hampton Roads ties, have newly registered as lobbyists for the pro-Medicaid expansion Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.  They are Janet Vestal Kelly, a past secretary of the commonwealth who attended Regent University, and her husband, Ryan; former U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake of Norfolk, who was McDonnell's public transit director; and Matt Cobb, a deputy health secretary under McDonnell. (Cobb's wife is Victoria Cobb, president of the social conservative Family Foundation that is anti-expansion.)

A former assistant attorney general is appealing the dismissal of her lawsuit claiming she was improperly fired after being accused of posting derogatory comments about her boss on a newspaper's website. Samantha Vanterpool's notice of appeal was transmitted to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The lawsuit names former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and his former chief deputy, Charles James Jr., as defendants. According to the complaint, Vanterpool was fired over comments posted in response to a Washington Post article. The anonymous reader called Cuccinelli an "egomaniac" who used his position for self-promotion. Vanterpool claims she was fired in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights.
Roanoke Times

Attorneys for Robert F. McDonnell want to subpoena the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission for documents they say might help them impeach a key government witness in the corruption case against the former Virginia governor. In filings late Thursday, the attorneys asked the court to issue subpoenas that would provide them with investigative files and other material from the FDA’s interaction with Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. and Star Scientific, the struggling dietary supplement company he used to run.
Washington Post

National Stories

Internal emails between staff at North Carolina’s environmental agency suggest state regulators were coordinating with Duke Energy before intervening in efforts by citizens groups trying to sue the company over groundwater pollution leeching from its coal ash dumps. The emails were provided Thursday to The Associated Press by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which had filed notice in January 2013 of its intent to sue the nation’s largest electricity company under the Clean Water Act. Within days, the emails show a Duke lobbyist contacted the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to set up a meeting. The emails suggest the company and regulators were in frequent contact, with a lawyer for Duke even advising the state on legal strategy in an April 30, 2013, email.
Roanoke Times

The House Intelligence Committee’s Republican and Democratic leaders said Thursday they’renearing agreement on legislation that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of U.S. citizens’ telephone data. Negotiations on some key details remain fluid, but Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said in an interview that he’s “very close” to a deal with Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on a plan that would allow phone companies to hold telephone records now collected by the NSA and conduct individual searches needed to pinpoint suspicious activity.

Minnesota lawmakers inserted themselves Wednesday into a dispute between businesses and the state's public safety agency over costs and ease of access to millions of driver's records and vehicle registrations. Legislation that would reverse an administrative decision to end bulk sales of the data began working its way through the House. Department of Public Safety officials say they're responding to citizen concern about privacy while a coalition of groups ranging from auto insurers to car dealers to data aggregators contend it will raise consumer prices and slow safety recalls.
Minneapolis Star Tribune


The law isn’t improved because it seems to be working, when in reality, it is very broken. This year’s session of the General Assembly had some possible improvements embodied in bills that would remove the draconian ‘state resident or media, and media in the DC market’ limitation on obtaining information and documents from the Commonwealth. Let’s be absurd for a moment. Let’s say a resident of North Carolina wants to get documents or information on the recent spate of coal ash spills in that state. A student or other interested citizen of North Carolina would, by law, not be able to receive information and/or documents from any entity in Virginia, from the Danville School Board, to the Department of Environmental Quality. This seems silly and not at all in the intent or scope of the idea of open government or FOIA in general.
Mark Brooks, The Next Shoe

During this year’s Sunshine Week, the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area salutes the Fairfax County Electoral Board, General Registrar and employees of the Fairfax County Office of Elections for their transparency and willingness to share information with the public in the follow-up to the 2013 general election. Their handling of the election reporting, canvass, provisional ballot determinations and recounts in the races for Virginia Attorney General and 33rd District Senate seats exemplified the best principles of open government. The Office of Elections frequently published updates on election reporting problems and the extended provisional ballot determination process, later on providing details about the progress of the recounts, all the while describing the safeguards in place to protect the integrity of the ballot.
Fairfax Times (letter to the editor)