Transparency News 4/2/19



April 2, 2019


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

state & local news stories




"[The city manager] said they hope to talk with Deschutes leaders Tuesday afternoon and perhaps disclose some details of the proposal after that."

Arlington County is planning to start forwarding public records requests about Amazon to the company, despite not yet having finalized the agreement to do, officials say. Arlington County agreed to alert the tech and retail giant whenever someone files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for public records involving the company. Both Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia have agreed to the deal, which has been criticized by open government advocates who fear it make public records harder to access. County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told ARLnow through a spokeswoman the agreement with Amazon is a “courtesy” and that it “will not change the County’s response to the request” of public records. 

Deschutes Brewery submitted a new proposal over the weekend for developing a production facility in Roanoke, city officials confirmed Monday. They would not discuss details of the proposal yet, as they haven’t fully vetted it and discussed it with Deschutes officials to be clear on its details. City Manager Bob Cowell said they hope to talk with Deschutes leaders Tuesday afternoon and perhaps disclose some details of the proposal after that.
The Roanoke Times

A Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority civil lawsuit alleges that ex-director Jennifer McDonald and Sheriff Daniel McEathron purchased nearly $3 million in property using the authority’s money. This portion of the lawsuit – which has nine defendants – centers around property purchased beginning in 2016 by DaBoyz LLC and MoveOn8 LLC, which a case filing states are owned and operated by McDonald and McEathron. McEathron, who announced on March 19 that he would retire in May before his term ends, stated in a news release last week that he was shocked by the allegations and that “I have done nothing illegal, either personally or professionally.” “Those that know me know who I am and what I stand for and that I would never do anything to compromise my position,” he stated in the release. McEathron’s 2019 financial disclosure form states that he has $50,000 or less invested in any properties owned with McDonald.
Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top lawmakers backtracked Sunday on a measure to allow police to keep arrest information from the public, instead rolling it back to ensure it only applies to mugshots. Since January, Cuomo has been pushing legislation to fight back against unscrupulous websites that post arrest photos of people across the nation only to demand payment to take them down. But Cuomo's original proposal, which legislative leaders had agreed to approve earlier this week, went further than just mugshots, instead allowing police to withhold all "law-enforcement booking information," which could have included even the names of people arrested and what they were charged with. On Sunday, Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers agreed to scale the measure back amid a wave of criticism from civil liberties advocates and news organizations, who argued it would have allowed police to keep arrests private. Now, the measure — which lawmakers are expected to pass as part of the budget late Sunday — will apply specifically to "arrest or booking photographs," with police still able to release them publicly if they serve a "specific law-enforcement purpose."
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request Monday for the release of grand jury materials used in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russia's election interference. The press group is seeking a court order that would authorize public release of any grand jury material “cited, quoted or referenced” in the report, which Mueller submitted to Attorney General William Barr on March 22.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press





editorials & columns



"Yes, under the Freedom of Information Act, government agencies do have the discretion to hold closed meetings — but why?"

The Office of the State Inspector General has already been criticized for its less-than-thorough report after the 2015 death of Jamycheal Mitchell, who died in Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In 2016, former Inspector General June Jennings claimed her office had “lacked authority to interview jail employees and request certain documents.” Others with the Inspector General’s Office dispute that. Hopefully, the General Assembly wastes no time amending the budget to allow JLARC full access to the inspector general’s closed meetings. After the shameful death of Mitchell and several others in Virginia jails, discussions should be as transparent as possible. Yes, under the Freedom of Information Act, government agencies do have the discretion to hold closed meetings — but why? And why would Herring encourage any agency to do so?
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Before it had a hashtag, the #MeToo movement had already hit science. Geoff Marcy, one of the first astronomers to have spotted a planet outside our solar system, resigned from UC Berkeley in 2015 after he was accused of sexually harassing graduate students. In the years that followed, astronomers at Caltech and Arizona State; a molecular biologist at the University of Washington and another who’d worked at the University of North Carolina and the University of Chicago; a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History; a geologist from Boston University — the list goes on — all resigned or were fired because of alleged sexual misconduct. It’s worth noting that many of the universities and other scientific organizations where high-profile cases were exposed are public, taxpayer-funded institutions. That’s not to suggest that private university scientists are less predatory, but at public institutions, researchers are held to account by freedom-of-information laws that allow journalists to compel scientists and their institutions to turn over emails and other records. Because private institutions are not subject to state or federal records laws, it can be much harder to prove cases of sexual harassment. Yet the California Assembly is considering a bill that would take that tool away. Assembly Bill 700, which faces a judiciary committee vote on Tuesday, would exempt scientists’ correspondence and certain other information from disclosure under the Public Records Act.
Charles Seife, Los Angeles Times