Transparency News 3/17/17

Friday, March 17, 2017

State and Local Stories
Richmond City Council members expressed disappointment Thursday that city finance officials are declining to cooperate with City Auditor Umesh Dalal in a review of the city’s tax-collection efforts. The comments surrounded a budget hearing that included a review of Dalal’s budget needs for the coming year.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Following the revelation last month that federal authorities were investigating the Sheriff’s Office’s dealings with a medical contractor, new Sheriff Joe Baron requested a “comprehensive turnover audit.” But Norfolk City Auditor John Sanderlin said this week there is no need for anyone to take a special look at the office’s books. An outside firm conducts an annual audit of the city’s finances, including the Sheriff’s Office, he said. “The annual financial audit already covers everything the sheriff wanted the turnover audit to cover,” Sanderlin said. “The sheriff probably wasn’t familiar with what goes into the annual audit.” Sanderlin said the firm, KPMG, won’t have to finalize the audit report until Nov. 30, more than three weeks after residents of Norfolk elect their new sheriff.

Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Doucette will serve as special prosecutor in proceedings involving two members of Altavista Town Council who were indicted Monday on one count each of soliciting voters within 40 feet from a polling place. Michele “Micki” Brumfield and James Higginbotham II both are charged with prohibited activities at polls, a misdemeanor. They are accused of repeatedly crossing poll entrance areas to solicit voters during the November election.
News & Advance

National Stories

When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966, it was envisioned as a tool for journalists to facilitate government oversight and accountability. Although the FOIA is still generally thought of in this way, inextricably linked to the news media’s role as government watchdog, this view bears little resemblance to the reality of how FOIA is used today. Nowadays, journalists account for only a small share of FOIA requests (just 7.6% by the estimate below). Since it was enacted, the FOIA’s user base has evolved to encompass a diverse ecosystem of organizations, entities, and individuals who use FOIA for a wide variety of reasons. Its users include lawyers, nonprofits, academic researchers, hospitals, political committees, hedge funds, government agencies, private individuals, and many others. Drawing on FOIA Mapper’s database of FOIA logs, here is my attempt at addressing these questions: who uses FOIA and why? The results are not comprehensive, but with a sample size of 229,000 requests from 85 agencies, it is the largest analysis on the use of FOIA to date.
FOIA Mapper

Ohio legislators are considering a bill that would make it illegal for companies to charge for removing or editing criminal records information or mugshots that have been published online or in print. The bill approved this week by the House in an 88-4 vote moves to the Senate for consideration. It targets businesses that publish the information or mugshots and then solicit or accept fees for taking down or correcting the material. Violators would face minor misdemeanor charges and also could be open to lawsuits.


On March 12, Sunshine Week began. It highlights the importance of keeping government records open to the public and strongly enforcing freedom of information or Sunshine laws. This national observance is important for one good reason: Taxpayers deserve to know what their government is doing, and they can’t know it if the government does not open meetings and records. Thus, good Sunshine laws are a must. Elected officials and bureaucrats don’t much care for Sunshine laws because they make conducting government business in secret very difficult. Expansively written and construed laws keep those officials and bureaucrats from hiding things from the public. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true: The people have a right to know. But they can’t know without strong Sunshine laws.
Winchester Star

You can’t blame Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal for wanting to review how the city handles its tax-collection system. After all, the city has nearly $53 million in unpaid taxes. Yet so far all he has been allowed to see is the stone wall the Finance Department has put in his face.
Richmond Times-Dispatch