Transparency News 4/28/14

Monday, April 28, 2014

State and Local Stories

Thank you to those who have already filled out our FOIA reform survey. If you haven't had the chance to do it, here's a reminder of the link. Click here to take the 10-question survey.

Local elected officials on and around the Peninsula seem to know a thing or two about stretching dollars — according to their financial disclosure forms, seven had no income at all.  But there's plenty that Virginia doesn't ask elected officials about where they get their money when it's time to fill in the disclosure forms that are the cornerstone of the state's regulation of political ethics. No one in government checks the forms for accuracy and few voters ever see them.
Daily Press

It's hard to know for sure from the financial disclosure forms legislators file, but the men and women who represent us in Richmond don't look like most people who live on and around the Peninsula. The forms are meant to alert the public to potential conflicts of interest, but they can be pretty vague – beyond letting us know that our legislators are, by and large, pretty well off. Take state Sen. Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, Jr., for instance. As Republican leader of the Senate, the James City County lawyer is one of the most powerful men in Virginia. As an attorney, he's also one of the biggest earners in the legislature, reporting fees of more than $2.5 million representing a slew of unnamed businesses, as well as gross income from his own businesses of more than $870,000.
Daily Press

The deciding factor in how a municipal chief is paid seems to be anybody’s guess. Experience and the amount of work the job requires often are important in determining the salary for a municipality’s leader, according to a study by the International City/County Management Association in Washington. But even that can vary. “There is no hard-and-fast formula for calculating manager salaries,” wrote association spokeswoman Michele Frisby. One way to look at pay is on a per-capita basis.
Daily Progress

The Virginia Department of Transportation has seen record response from Loudoun residents asked to comment on plans to construct a new connector road to Dulles Airport from the south. According to VDOT project manager Tom Fahrney, Tuesday night’s input session in South Riding brought out about 500 people, and around 2,000 comments have been sent into VDOT. “It is probably the largest comments in terms of numbers I have seen in my 28 years of doing this,” Fahrney said Wednesday.
Inside NOVA

Volunteer personnel at Roanoke County’s Hollins Fire and Rescue Station No. 5 are back on the job after more than three months of being forbidden from running emergency calls. An investigation launched last year by the county attorney into a series of incidents and heated disagreements between fire and rescue volunteers prompted the administrative leave, which began Dec. 30. The county repeatedly has refused to provide records detailing County Attorney Paul Mahoney’s investigation to The Roanoke Times under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. But in a letter obtained separately by the newspaper, Mahoney described “actions and language” by some volunteers as “personally, morally and ethically wrong.”
Roanoke Times

National Stories

The Detroit Free Press won a lawsuit last week over the public's right to federal mug shots. It was the third time in 20 years that the paper won after suing the federal government on this issue. The Free Press first sued for access to federal mugshots in 1996, when it won at the district court level and then at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Other federal circuits ruled that federal mug shots were not public records, but the law stood in the Sixth Circuit, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. In 2005, the Department of Justice argued a Supreme Court ruling had overturned the first Free Press case, but the government eventually abandoned that argument in court. Journalists have been able to access mugshots through the Sixth Circuit since 1996. Last year, the U.S. Marshals Service, which is the agency that holds the mugshot records, decided it would no longer comply with the Sixth Circuit's 1996 ruling. The Detroit Free Press sued the service, and this week's decision by a district judge in Michigan reaffirmed that the Sixth Circuit's 1996 ruling still applies.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Two students are suing a Hawaii university after they say they were told in January they could not pass out copies of the Constitution to fellow students, in a lawsuit accusing the school of violating their First Amendment rights to free speech. In a complaint against the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the students' lawyers said the school "unconstitutionally restricts access to open areas on campus by requiring students to seek permission to speak at least seven business days in advance."

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is making thousands of illustrations that were previously only accessible at the museum’s Manhattan location available online.
New York Times

Federal prosecutors investigating last fall's closure of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge have subpoenaed materials from the New Jersey Legislature panel probing the same. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is seeking all documents that the New Jersey Select Committee on Investigation has obtained since it began its investigation earlier this year. The committee's co-chairs, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, and Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in a joint statement that the committee would cooperate with the government's investigation.
New Jersey Law Journal


[Hampton mayoral candidate George] won election [to the council] in 2008 and reelection in 2012 before ascending to the mayor's office last year. He now seeks a full term in that role, arguing his extensive experience and intimate knowledge of city operations make him the best candidate for the job. Those qualities are reflected in his vision for Hampton's future. His lists violent crime as his No. 1 concern, which he argues requires better engagement of the city's youth. He wants to capitalize on the city's technology base as a way to create jobs while defending the community from losing military resources through base closures. Mr. Wallace is wrong, however, to claim the council's record on openness is only a matter of concern for this newspaper. Government works on the public's behalf and should operate transparently. The mayor sets the tone, and Mr. Wallace should open wide the doors to residents.
Daily Press