Transparency News 4/19/17

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

State and Local Stories

A day after being sentenced to federal prison, Treasurer Anthony Burfoot was preparing to fight another attempt to remove him from office for good. On Tuesday morning, a lawyer filed a motion asking a Norfolk judge to rule that Burfoot has forfeited his office because of his felony convictions. Burfoot’s lawyer, Andrew Sacks, called the request “wholly premature.” Burfoot, who was elected Norfolk’s chief tax collector in 2013, has been suspended from office without pay since February. Sacks said he had no plan to try to act as treasurer before turning himself in to federal marshals today to begin serving his six-year sentence. But Sacks said Burfoot has the legal right to stay in office while trying to have his convictions set aside.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden was nearly 5,000 miles away from Williamsburg on Tuesday, even as more than 150 people gathered to hear him speak. Snowden spoke to students in the Sadler Auditorium at the College of William and Mary on Tuesday afternoon. The college, in partnership with the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, streamed a chat with Snowden via Facebook Live, even as the former National Security Agency contractor remained exiled in Russia. Throughout history, he said, governments have used information and the lack thereof to deceive and confuse citizens.
Virginia Gazette

National Stories

Guess what Steven A. Ballmer has been up to for the last several years. (No, not just cheering for the basketball team he owns, the Los Angeles Clippers.) It’s a novel project, and he plans to take the wrapping off it Tuesday. On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments. Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.
New York Times

The conservative-driven Cause of Action Institute has brought a federal complaint to access FBI records on the former British spy who prepared a salacious dossier on President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Specifically, the institute seeks records under the Freedom of Information Act “evidencing … whether the FBI paid, or caused to be paid, money to Christopher Steele for any purpose.” “If a former spy who was being paid to do opposition research on a U.S. presidential nominee was also on the FBI’s payroll, there are serious concerns about the agency’s independence,” Cause of Action President John Vecchione said in a statement.”We need to better understand this financial relationship to ensure the FBI was not misusing taxpayer money to interfere in a presidential election on behalf of one of the candidates.”  Cause of Action brought its federal complaint Monday in Washington, saying its March FOIA request has been gathering dust. The 4-page lawsuit says the FBI assigned a case number to its request, and granted it news-media status in March, but has said nothing else, blowing past FOIA deadlines.
Courthouse News Service

A federal magistrate judge has ordered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to disclose documents outlining a strategic plan he presented to President Donald Trump in November, a decision that could have ramifications from Topeka to Washington. Kobach, who served on Trump's transition team, was photographed in November holding a stack of papers labeled as a strategic plan for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That plan, as revealed by the photograph, included the recommendations that the U.S. block all refugees from Syria and engage in "extreme vetting" of immigrants from countries considered high-risk. The American Civil Liberties Union sought the documents' disclosure. Judge James O'Hara in Kansas City, Kan., ordered Kobach to share the documents Monday after privately reviewing them earlier in the month. The judge will allow Kobach to redact the documents, but he wholly rejected the Kansas official's argument that the papers were protected by Trump's executive privilege and even questioned whether Kobach had met his duty of candor as an attorney in his efforts to prevent the ACLU from reviewing the papers.


Let’s face it. The country is crawling with scoundrels like Norfolk developer Ronnie Boone Sr. These unscrupulous businessmen seem to believe the rules that the rest of us follow are for chumps. These big shots like to do things their way. They start by figuratively waving wads of cash, or gifts, or trips under the noses of politicians. Once a few start salivating, the businessmen game the system with the tacit approval – and sometimes assistance – of those they’ve seduced. Hate them if you like. But remember, without corrupt public officials willing to take their bribes and do their bidding, the Ronnie Boones of the world would be impotent. Their relationship with public officials is a symbiotic one. They need unprincipled politicians who have forgotten – or never cared – that they work for the people. Likewise, greedy officials come to crave the goodies these free-wheeling spenders provide – vacation homes, expensive dinners and envelopes stuffed with cash. The difference between criminals like Boone and the politicians they bribe is that no one voted for the developers.
Kerry Dougherty, Virginian-Pilot

In honor of the recent Open Data Day, here's what might seem a counterintuitive suggestion: Let's stop celebrating open data. What the movement should be pushing for instead is useable data, and we're seeing considerable progress on that front. A group of chief data officers from large cities recently released a letter to the open data community that makes the point in a compelling way. The CDOs argue that the real issue is accessibility of data to a wider audience so that the number and types of users continue to expand. Simply counting the number of released data sets as a performance accomplishment misses the point. It's the production of useable data, along with the essential metadata to tie it together.
Stephen Goldsmith, Governing