Transparency News 3/20/19



March 20, 2019


Eventbrite - ACCESS 2019: VCOG's Open Government Conference
April 11 | Hampton University

state & local news stories




“We’re simply giving the company the opportunity to know what’s going on.”

Thinking of joining a public board or commission or already on one? Want to know more about Virginia's FOIA Act?  Join us Monday the 25th for a free public forum with Cville City Attorney and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government

The FOIA Council has issued two opinions this month: One on the interaction of FOIA and other code provisions when it comes to access at a public hospital to your own medical records, and one on how two public bodies might meet to mediate a dispute.
Read them on VCOG's website

Federal investigators released nearly 100 documents Tuesday that detail last year’s fatal crash between a trash truck and an Amtrak train that was carrying Republican members of Congress near Charlottesville. Photos, witness accounts and other information were made public ahead of a final report that will be released sometime soon, said Keith Holloway, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Danville City Council voted — again — Tuesday night to make the Danville Neighborhood Development Corporation its land-bank entity. Council voted in favor of the idea following its Feb. 19 approval of the same agenda item, but had to approve it again because that first vote was illegal due to lack of a public hearing last time. Also, council did not advertise the public hearing before the initial approval, as required by state law.
Register & Bee

The Arlington government’s top attorney says there’s nothing improper about part of the county’s incentive deal with Amazon that gives the company notice of Virginia Freedom of Information Act filings related to the agreement. “It’s a bit of a red herring,” County Attorney Stephen McIsaac said (to some razzing from the audience) March 16 as County Board members were preparing to ink the deal with Amazon. The measure passed on a 5-0 vote. McIsaac said there was nothing ethically wrong with doing so. In fact, he suggested, it was common sense. “There are legitimate records that may be very sensitive and even prohibited by law from disclosure,” he said. “We’re simply giving the company the opportunity to know what’s going on.”


stories of national interest

The aircraft manufacturer Boeing has received roughly $1 billion in tax incentives and credits from Washington state over the past four years. That includes tens of millions of dollars for activities in 2017 related to production equipment for the 737 MAX jets, all of which have been grounded in the past week after two fatal crashes. That information is known because Washington state has one of the more well-established tax incentive evaluation programs in the country. As corporate tax breaks -- like the ones used to lure Amazon’s HQ2 -- have come under increasing scrutiny, more states are tracking them and attempting to ensure that the businesses that receive them are holding up their end of the deals. But, 20 states still don’t regularly assess their corporate giveaways at all, and few cities have established systems to routinely track these incentives.





editorials & columns



"The millions of dollars the courts have reaped in user fees have produced a website unworthy of the least talented of Silicon Valley garage programmers."

The chances are rare to meet face-to-face with this region’s federal representatives. After all, the vast majority of their work takes place in Washington, D.C., some three-plus hours away. That makes a chance to discuss issues of the day with them, in person, at a townhall-style event is a golden opportunity for many people. U.S. Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia Beach, and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, held concurrent townhall meeting Monday evening, at the same time, in separate locations — 36 miles apart. The timing deprived constituents the ability to meet with both representatives. Making matter worse, both events began at 6 p.m. Monday, meaning the evening rush hour traffic was also going to be a factor, pushing the drive time between the two venues to close to an hour if people tried to risk attending both events. Constituents would have been better served by having the flexibility to visit both of these congressional representatives’ events without being forced to race across town. A joint townhall meeting involving both Reps. Luria and Scott would have benefited everyone involved.
Daily Press

I’m here to tell you that PACER—Public Access to Court Electronic Records—is a judicially approved scam. The very name is misleading: Limiting the public’s access by charging hefty fees, it has been a scam since it was launched and, barring significant structural changes, will be a scam forever. The U.S. federal court system rakes in about $145 million annually to grant access to records that, by all rights, belong to the public. For such an exorbitant price—it can cost hundreds of dollars a year to keep up with an ongoing criminal case—you might think the courts would at least make it easy to access basic documents. But you’d be wrong. The millions of dollars the courts have reaped in user fees have produced a website unworthy of the least talented of Silicon Valley garage programmers; 18 years since its online birth, PACER remains a byzantine and antiquated online repository of legal information. As a result, the public routinely misses key developments in the evolution of the criminal justice system.
Seamus Hughes, Politico