Transparency News 4/3/15

Friday, April 3, 2015


Transparency News will be taking a brief vacation April 6-7. Watch for its return April 8. 

State and Local Stories

Looking into what went wrong when Virginia Beach supporters of Rep. Scott Rigell couldn't get voting machines to register their choice last November, the state Department of Elections found problems with some touchscreen machines — but not the kind that frustrated Rigell's backers. Instead, it found such serious problems with another, aging touchscreen device — AVS WinVote — that it thinks the State Board of Elections should consider stopping its use altogether.
Daily Press

The Hampton School Board's closed meeting on March 25 included discussion of contract terms for the unfilled superintendent job, which might not be allowed under state open meetings law exemptions. The School Board cited a section of state code that covers "discussion, consideration, or interviews of prospective candidates for employment" as its justification for meeting in closed session to discuss contract terms. But that code section mentions nothing about contract terms. Further, the School Board apparently hasn't interviewed any candidates for its position. The Daily Press questioned whether the meeting qualified for closed session since any discussions at this point would appear to be generic in nature, rather than about a specific person as required by state law.
Daily Press

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office rebuffed interview requests with a federal agent investigating the U.S. government’s investor visa program, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General twice asked McAuliffe for an interview in the summer of 2014 but said in a recent report that the efforts were unsuccessful. A senior special agent in the inspector general’s office emailed McAuliffe’s office July 3, 2014, indicating that agent had called a month earlier asking for an interview.

State Sen. Tommy Norment acknowledged personally seeing a registered lobbyist in a written response to a State Bar complaint made by the man who later tried to extort him. The complaint to the Virginia State Bar was made by Christopher Burruss, who hired Norment to represent him in a criminal case in 2010. Burruss, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to extortion, said Norment had botched the handling of his criminal case and accused Norment of numerous ethical violations. In his complaint, Burruss included information about Norment's relationship with the lobbyist and provided copies of emails between the two. Norment responded with a six-page letter to the State Bar dated Nov. 17, 2013. Burruss received a copy and mailed one to a Pilot reporter from jail in February.


This week’s thorns go to:  Three members of the Hampton School Board who declined to recuse themselves from a budget vote that included raises for their wives, who work for Hampton City Schools. It's not that we question the board members' motivation — but it gives the wrong impression.
Daily Press

Underpinning the coverage of the Hillary Clinton email scandal is a double standard: She is being pilloried for email practices that are widely used throughout government from local school districts up to the federal level, from junior up to senior administrators and from many past as well as current officials. Admittedly, the press has tried to grapple with the double standard by comparing her practices with those of other government officials in similar positions, such as presumptive presidential nominees (Martin O'Malley, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Scott Walker) and former secretaries of state (Colin Powell). However, compared to my local Maryland public school system in Anne Arundel County, which only retains email for 30 days, these other email retention policies may be paragons of openness. Because Maryland's Public Information Act allows up to 30 days to fulfill an information request, the school system's 30-day retention policy means emails with potentially embarrassing information are effectively exempt from disclosure. No practical penalties appear to exist for deleting emails in response to a Public Information Act request, either. This loophole in Maryland's Public Information Act makes a mockery of Mr. O'Malley's rejoinder to press inquiries about his email use last month: "in our state, whether you used a personal email or a public email or a carrier pigeon, it was all a public record subject to disclosure."
J.H. Snider, The Baltimore Sun