Transparency News 4/17/15

Friday, April 17, 2015  

State and Local Stories

Listen to my brief interview with Jimmy Barrett on WRVA radio yesterday morning talking about the Transparency Virginia report on transparency at the General Assembly.

Megan Rhyne, with the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, joins Coy [Barefoot] to discuss a newly announced group, Transparency Virginia, which [Tuesday] released the findings of an unprecedented study. In Virginia government, the public’s business is far from public.
Inside Charlottesville

A divided Virginia Supreme Court tossed out a contempt citation against a California social media company in an Internet anonymous-speech defamation case. The closely watched case raised a number of First Amendment concerns and issues, but it was decided Thursday on jurisdictional grounds. In a 16-page majority opinion, Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan concluded that Alexandria Circuit Judge Lisa B. Kemler could not enforce a subpoena seeking information about anonymous posters on Yelp Inc. about an Alexandria, Va., company.

The attorney for a Culpeper town police detective has advised Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick to “cease and desist” making defamatory statements regarding his client. Similar letters were also sent to five members of Frederick’s staff as well as Town Attorney Martin Crim and County Attorney Sandra Robinson. Richmond lawyer Andrew Meyer sent the letters after Frederick wrote town police Chief Chris Jenkins on March 26 advising him that in the future her office would no longer prosecute any cases investigated by Detective Matthew Haymaker. “We will proceed on certain cases in which Detective Haymaker’s involvement was not material to the investigation or prosecution,” Frederick’s letter stated. “Moving forward, however, Detective Haymaker’s involvement in an investigation, no matter how slight, will result in our declining to prosecute the case.” Meyer claims that Frederick’s actions are in retaliation for a March 17 court ruling that Frederick had no basis in law for demanding a copy of an internal investigation that the Police Department conducted.
Free Lance-Star

Yet again, the fate of police surveillance in Virginia rests in the hands of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and he’s made it clear he sides with law enforcement over civil liberties advocates. After a day of the General Assembly’s veto session Wednesday, two versions of a bill restricting police use of surveillance technology — including automatic license plate readers — are headed to the governor’s desk. McAuliffe can choose to sign an original bill from Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen, which prohibits police from using any surveillance technology without a warrant. Or, McAuliffe can sign a bill he himself drastically narrowed from Republican Delegate Richard Anderson, which lets police use ALPR technology but requires them to delete data after seven days. Right now, police departments can keep that data revealing a vehicle’s precise, time-stamped coordinates forever, if they wish. But the governor, who upped the proposed seven-day retention period to 60 days, said his “first responsibility is to keep the commonwealth safe.” McAuliffe stressed that license plates aren’t personal information, not mentioning how ALPR technology still records precise coordinates and timestamps and allows police to match that information to personal records in, say, Department of Motor Vehicles databases.

National Stories

A conservative watchdog group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the U.S. Justice Department to turn over investigative documents in the case of Miriam Carey, the unarmed motorist who was shot to death on Capital Hill by Secret Service agents and Capitol Police officers in October 2013 following a chase from the White House. Judicial Watch’s complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleges that the Justice Department has failed to respond properly to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act in August 2014 by, or WND, the conservative online news outlet that is Judicial Watch’s client.
Washington Post

For years, if residents of Rocklin, Calif., near Sacramento, wanted to review the city’s budget priorities or see how those priorities linked to revenue and spending, they had to sort through numerous PDFs. While the financial information was useful, it wasn’t very user-friendly. And that didn’t satisfy city leaders who prided themselves on Rocklin’s long tradition of transparency, according to Kim Sarkovich, Rocklin’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager. But when a city posts its financial data in a format that’s easy to find, read and understand, the payoff can be huge. That has certainly been the case with New York City’s Checkbook NYC. The website, which was launched in 2010, lets residents track how the city spends its money through a very navigable dashboard of charts and tables. New York was not the first city to make its financial information so readily available and transparent, but the Sunlight Foundation says it’s “one of the best examples of an open checkbook-style website that we’ve found.” As a growing number of cities have embraced the financial transparency trend and started creating their own versions of open checkbooks, they’ve either gone the route laid down by New York, using open-source software to develop their own dashboards of fiscal information, or have turned to third parties.

Tulsa County Sheriff's Office supervisors were ordered to falsify training records for a white reserve deputy charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a black suspect, an Oklahoma newspaper reported on Thursday. The Tulsa World cited anonymous sources as saying volunteer deputy Robert Bates, 73, received credit for field training he did not have and firearms certifications he should not have had. Bates' attorney, Corbin Brewster, said on Thursday the report was not true and the source of the report would prove to be unreliable. "As far as I know, there was no falsification of records at any time related to Mr. Bates," Brewster said in a telephone interview. "Mr. Bates received hundreds of hours of reserve deputy training and he briefly served as a Tulsa police officer prior to joining the sheriff’s office."

The video of a North Charleston police officer shooting an unarmed man in the back will now cost news outlets that want to run it $10,000, according to a publicist representing the man who shot it. Cease-and-desist letters went out this week to news outlets around the world from Markson Sparks, a publicity and celebrity management company based in Sydney, Australia. The announcement about the fee seemed to come as a surprise to Mr. Santana. He later recalled that his lawyer mentioned something about charging for it, but said he did not understand. The lawyer, Todd Rutherford, said it was only fair for Mr. Santana to start getting paid for something that news outlets benefited from.
New York Times


For any member of the public or press who is not intimately familiar with the legislative process, following or participating in that process is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. For example, when seasoned lobbyists are chastised for not following unwritten rules for opposing a bill, imagine what a citizen faces when trying to participate in person. When engaged observers are physically present in the committee room and yet still cannot completely pick out which members of a 22-person committee shouted out aye or nay, imagine a citizen’s confusion back home when the disposition of a bill is listed online only as “subcommittee recommends laying on the table by voice vote.” The system is set up for those on the inside, yet even many professionals are frequently left in the dark. Where decisions about state and local laws that directly and indirectly affect each and every one of us are made, the short sessions and the rapid-fire scheduling of committee meetings undermine participation by and accountability to the citizens of Virginia.
Megan Rhyne, Suffolk News-Herald

Prince William school officials have been at it again with the underhanded tactics, hoping – it seems -- to sneak in a brand-spanking new building for Porter Traditional School where a neighborhood-based elementary school was promised. Once again, school administration made these plans without really telling anyone, including the school board and the taxpayers. Lack of transparency is an ongoing issue among our school leaders. In late 2013, they made plans to disinter an old family graveyard at the site of the new 12th high school – without seeking any community input and without even trying to figure out who was buried there. It wasn’t until we here at Prince William Today got a tip and called up school communications director Phil Kavits that the news became known to the general public.
Prince William Today