Transparency News 4/29/14

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

State and Local Stories

In his 23 years as a 911 dispatcher and supervisor in Manassas, Robert Weaver has heard expressions of fear and shock and sorrow of every kind — the beginnings of hundreds upon hundreds of stories. He has rarely heard the endings. During an average month, Manassas police Sgt. Bert Korngage said, the dispatchers at the station field more than 5,200 calls that lead to police incidents. That’s not to mention the calls that the dispatchers connect to other agencies, such as social services, parking enforcement or animal control. Nor the calls for fire and emergency services, which are redirected to Prince William County. Nor the calls from residents, especially older ones, who sometimes use the police line as a source of information they could look up elsewhere. In all, the phone might ring 80 to 100 times an hour at the busiest times, Weaver said.
Washington Post

After a heated incident with an armed activist over access to the Richmond City Council media gallery, the city has closed the area to media representatives. At a council meeting today, the sign on the media gallery had been changed to read "Council and Admin. Staff."

A report by The Center for Public Integrity identified 24 cases in which federal appeals court judges — including one on the Richmond-based appeals court — owned stock in a company with a case before them. Released Monday, the center’s report said it examined the three most recent years of financial disclosure reports filed by 255 of the 258 judges who sit on the nation’s 13 appellate circuits. One of the 12 judges in the 24 cases identified by the center is Barbara Keenan, a former Virginia Supreme Court justice who now sits on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina and Maryland.

The police know exactly where my car has been — and when — during the past few months. They could have the same information — or more — about you. As a part of my series on the use of automatic license plate readers in Virginia, I wanted to find out what kind of information local police might have. By law, the only information I’m privileged to is my own. Earlier this month I filed a public records request with the Alexandria Police Department. I’ve lived in the City of Alexandria for just two years, and my driving record — aside from the occasional parking ticket — is virtually spotless. What I found, however, left me riveted. In all, police captured 16 photos of my car — mostly at night — and recorded my license plate eight times on five dates — from October 2013 to as recently as April 1.
Alexandria Times

The decades-long relationship between Libby Garvey and the Arlington County Democratic Committee came to an ugly end April 28, as the veteran Democratic elected official resigned from the party – but not before extending a (figurative) middle finger to a host of local leaders. Garvey resigned rather than face expulsion for her support of independent John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howse in the April 8 County Board special election. But she used the meeting called for the purpose of expelling her to put up a defense, and to go on the attack against leaders of what until then had been her political home. The meeting was closed to all but party insiders, and no verbatim transcript was made available. But based on interviews following Garvey’s speech, it appears she took shots at Howze, County Board member Mary Hynes, former County Board member Chris Zimmerman, former County Board candidate Melissa Bondi and perhaps others.
Inside NOVA

After years of being called on the carpet for bookkeeping and record-keeping issues, the Albemarle County Circuit Court Clerk’s office is under investigation by state police, and while local officials are mum on the details, the state’s top auditor has indicated a prosecutor from out of town is already involved. State police have said little about the investigation other than indicating that it involves an employee in the court clerk’s office, and that no arrests have been made or charges placed.
C-ville Weekly

National Stories

In 2010, the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office in Ohio changed their policy about copying records. Digital files would no longer be available, and the public would have to make hard copies of documents for $2 per page. This would prove to be prohibitively expensive for Data Trace Information Services and Property Insight, companies that collect hundreds of pages of this public information each week. They sued the Recorder’s Office for access to digital versions of the documents on a CD. In the middle of the case, a lawyer representing them questioned the IT administrator of the Recorder’s Office, which led to a 10-page argument over the semantics of photocopiers. The case never went to trial. After two years, many depositions and 600 pages of paperwork, the Ohio Supreme Court decided that the Recorder’s Office should make a CD with the documents available to the public. The price? One dollar.
New York Times (This takes you to a video recreation of one of the depositions. You’ll never think of the word “photocopier” the same way again.)

The Obama administration on Monday announced a series of steps it plans to take to try to reduce the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, including pushing colleges and universities to become more transparent in their reporting of incidents. Vice President Biden will formally unveil the report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on Tuesday. The report details plans to launch the web site called – where enforcement data will be published — as well as an effort to require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys of their student bodies by 2016 to get a better understanding of how frequently incidents happen on campus.
USA Today

Government is raising its expectations. While it hasn’t been uncommon in the past for governments to consider money wasted by fraud, mismanagement or inefficiency as an expense of doing business, times are changing. New technologies are preventing such waste and initiating cultural change in the public sector. At the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), that transformation is being realized through the adoption of an online authentication tool the agency is using to ensure that the benefits it issues, like food assistance, are going to the right people. Such incarnations of online authentication technology are sprouting up in state government agencies around the country, led by a White House vision of a new, central form of identification, what some are calling “a driver’s license for the Internet.”

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday confronts the question of whether the increasing amount of deeply personal information kept on mobile devices means police officers need a warrantbefore they can search an arrested suspect's cell phone. In a case that pits expectations of privacy against the interests of the law enforcement community, the court will hear one-hour arguments in two cases. The nine justices are weighing cases from California and Massachusetts arising from criminal prosecutions that used evidence obtained without a warrant from a judge.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday seemed deeply troubled that a public employee could be fired for testifying truthfully under a subpoena in a criminal trial. And although a majority of the justices appeared to believe that the First Amendment protected Edward Lane's speech, the court seemed more conflicted about whether the boss who fired him was entitled to qualified immunity from Lane's lawsuit. The justices heard arguments in Lane v. Franks, which asks the high court to examine the scope of its divided 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. In that often criticized ruling, the court held that the First Amendment protects public employees when they speak as citizens on matters of public concern, but not when their statements are pursuant to their official job duties.