Transparency News 5/14/14

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

State and Local Stories

Some details of the Shockoe Bottom stadium plan emerged this week after a long wait, but the officials who had a hand in crafting the documents are not rushing to explain them. The documents were released to the Richmond City Council and reporters Monday night, well after an initial deadline of March 27. Neither the chairman of the Richmond Economic Development Authority board nor the administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones answered follow-up questions Tuesday. Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall did not respond to an interview request. Tammy D. Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, acknowledged that she received an emailed list of questions but she did not provide answers Tuesday. Julious P. Smith Jr., the chairman of the development authority board whose signature appears on most of the letters of intent released Monday, said in an email that he was unavailable for an interview Tuesday because of his meeting schedule. Without a public explanation from the officials pushing it, the documents themselves do not paint a full picture of how the complicated Shockoe plan would work financially and legally.

In the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on the topic, the Henrico County Board of Supervisors opened Tuesday’s regular meeting with a prayer for the first time since 2012. Former Deputy County Manager George T. Drumwright Jr. rose and started the meeting by reading a prayer given by President George H.W. Bush on his inauguration in 1989. The recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway held that prayer at public meetings can be constitutional. At the end of the work session that preceded Tuesday’s meeting, the board received advice from the county attorney in closed session and reached consensus on a set of guidelines to govern their invocations.

Shenandoah County officials remain tight-lipped over the fate of the former Alms House as questions of its ownership arise. The issue of ownership came up at the Board of Supervisors' meeting Tuesday morning. The board went into closed session to discuss the former Alms House site with County Attorney J. Jay Litten. Chris Way, the county's geographic information system specialist, and Duane Williams, facilities manager, also attended the closed session. District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey opposed the motion to discuss the matter in closed session and asked why they couldn't talk about it in the open. Litten said he couldn't answer the question in open session. He did acknowledge that no potential litigation exists. When the board returned to open session about 30 minutes later to certify that they discussed only the matter indicated in the motion to go into closed session, Bailey and District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz voted against the certification. Litten said they needed to provide a reason for why they felt the discussion deviated from closed meeting topic. Litten said he'd never seen a board member challenge the certification in more than 1,200 meetings he's attended
Northern Virginia Daily

For $6,000 the city made itself a little more user friendly and helped out a local startup company. Monday, the city officially launched a new smartphone app, Williamsburg Wayfinder, that changes the way residents, businesses and visitors interact with government, attractions and businesses. The app updates the CITY 411 app introduced in 2011. Residents can still submit and track non-emergency requests, photos and text messages, but the new app adds new features, allowing access of the city's Property Information Service and will also inform users of restaurants and shops closest to them. It was created by iTourMobile, a client in the Historical Triangle Business Incubator,
Virginia Gazette

A four-page letter sent to the county administrator and supervisors penned by an education finance expert suggests the justification for a new middle school is flimsy and "seriously flawed." Phil Tahey is a county resident and a certified public accountant who has more than 30 years specializing in education finance and was once the controller at Johns Hopkins University. An email to the supervisors released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request shows that Tahey appealed to County Administrator Doug Powell and the Board of Supervisors in recent weeks to "start over" the middle school capacity study that undergirds Williamsburg-James City County Schools' stated need for a fourth middle school.
Virginia Gazette

National Stories

Under increasing public scrutiny over a new pre-publication review policy, the Office of the Director National Intelligence released a statement claiming the media has "misconstrued" the policy, but open government advocates aren't so sure. In April, DNI put in place a policy that, among other things, prohibits current and former ODNI personnel from citing in books and publications to information that has been leaked to the public. "The use of such information in a publication can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security," the policy states. The policy goes beyond prohibiting officials from releasing classified information and extends the prohibition even to citing news reports about leaked information. ODNI released a statement May 9 stating that "recent media reports have misconstrued ODNI's policy" and "the revised policy is not significantly different from previous" policies enacted in 2007 and 2009
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight media organizations have filed a brief in D.C. appeals court arguing for a ruling that would take a broad view of who is a "representative of the news media" when it comes to Freedom of Information Act fee waivers. When Cause of Action filed a FOIA request with the Federal Trade Commission, the government accountability group asked for a news media fee waiver based on the fact that it maintains a website with news updates and an electronic newsletter. Barring that, COA requested a public interest fee waiver. Both were denied, and that decision was upheld by the federal District Court in D.C. “This case centers on a question that strikes at one of the central accountability principles of democratic government: how far government agencies and the courts can go in defining what is ‘news’ and of ‘public interest,’ and this merits disclosure without hefty fees to the requestor,” the Reporters Committee brief states. Because of its potential impact on emerging news media, this case, “has implications beyond the outcome for the parties directly involved, and could make it difficult for the news media to fully report on the workings of government for the benefit of the public.” The news media friend-of-the-court brief argues that ruling in COA’s favor would not only be in line with Congress’ goal of better government transparency when it passed the law, but it would also be crucial to ensuring that emerging online journalists are included in the definition of news media.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The drugs Pennsylvania can use to execute a man who killed three Pittsburgh police officers should be disclosed to the public, however, other aspects of the execution - including who participates and what companies supply the drugs - can be kept secret, the state Office of Open Records has ruled. The ruling came in March after state prisoner Richard Poplawski challenged the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' refusal to list its procedures for carrying out capital punishment, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday.
Philadelphia Inquirer