Transparency News 5/14/18



May 14, 2018


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state & local news stories


Seats are still available for VCOG's FOIA and records management seminar in Richmond, May 31. Click here to register.

Bruce Kothmann was confronted by two University Police Department officers Tuesday afternoon for reading a passage from the Bible on the steps of the Rotunda without a permit. He was interrupted halfway through Isaiah 40, Kothmann said, but it’s not a big deal because he had told the University Counsel’s office in advance he’d be there. He said he just wanted to make a point. That’s because Kothmann — a University alumnus with a daughter in the College — is now an unaffiliated person, and he does not like it.  "When I got the email announcing the University's new policy yesterday, I was upset because I think the legacy of Thomas Jefferson is as close to absolute on free speech as can be,” Kothmann said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. But University alumni aren’t the only unaffiliated individuals concerned by the new regulations. Some students, activists and lawyers believe the rules might have a chilling effect on speech around Grounds.
The Cavalier Daily


stories of national interest

By the time the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission sided with Stephen J. Williams in his 21-month fight for access to state police records, he felt the victory was meaningless.  This feeling intensified when state police eventually told him the records didn’t even exist, because he there was no longer any point in challenging the agency yet again. Too much time had passed.  The FOI Commission Wednesday ruled the state police again violated the FOI Act’s requirement for prompt access when it failed to process a request filed by the Record Journal in June 2016 for arrest records.  “The fact is that you and I won, but we lost,” said Williams, who received his ruling in May 2017. In both cases, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees the state police, argued that the delay was the result of a backlog caused by limiting staffing
Meridian Record-Journal

A New York City lawmaker is trying to help journalists get access to public records more quickly. But those same journalists, as well as good government groups and public records experts, have mixed views on his quest to protect investigative journalism. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres—who heads the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigation—would establishe a category of “professional journalists” and requires agencies to respond to their Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests within 10 business days after they receive the request, according to the bill’s text. He introduced the bill on Wednesday, first reported by The New York Times. The state’s FOIL law allows any member of the public to access governmental agencies’ records.

Starting this month, if you get stopped by a police officer in New York City and are not arrested, you may be handed a business card that will explain how to request officers' body camera footage of the stop. It's all part of the Right to Know Act, a new law designed to increase transparency within New York's police department. The law was passed in December in response to allegations of unnecessary and unjustified stop-and-frisk searches by the NYPD, says the legislation. It's being rolled out first in four precincts across the city, according to a police department directive shared with the New York Post.

The elections supervisor in Florida’s second-most populous county broke state and federal law by unlawfully destroying ballots cast in Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s 2016 Democratic primary, a judge ruled Friday in a case brought by the congresswoman’s challenger who wanted to check for voting irregularities. In light of the ruling, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration — which has expressed concerns with how Broward County Election Supervisor Brenda Snipes has handled the case — told POLITICO that he’s reviewing the judge’s order and will have her office monitored.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, dined last year in Rome with Cardinal George Pell, a prominent climate-science denialist and Vatican leader who was also facing sexual abuse allegations. The E.P.A. later released official descriptions of the dinner that intentionally did not mention the cardinal’s presence, according to three current and former E.P.A. officials. Kevin Chmielewski, Mr. Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff for operations, said in an interview that top political appointees at the agency feared that the meeting would reflect poorly on Mr. Pruitt if it were made public. Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that as early as May 12, Mr. Pruitt’s scheduler, Millan Hupp, was working on plans for Mr. Pruitt to meet with Cardinal Pell.
The New York Times

A former CIA contractor on Friday pleaded guilty for stealing classified information and then lying about it to investigators, the Justice Department said. According to prosecutors, Reynaldo B. Regis spent a decade conducting unauthorized searches in classified CIA databases, then copying secret information into personal notebooks that he took home. Regis was assigned to the CIA from August 2006 and November 2016. When investigators confronted him about the issue, Regis, 53, lied about his actions, according to court documents. A subsequent search of his home in Maryland uncovered approximately 60 notebooks filled with classified information, DOJ said.

If you want to know how much your local government is spending on private lobbyists to lobby the Legislature, the Florida House has a web page devoted to disclosing it. But though House Speaker Richard Corcoran promised the web page would provide "transformational" transparency, the House forgot one thing: to post all the data. Records obtained by the Times/Herald show that despite an ethics rule that requires lobbyists for taxpayer-funded entities submit lobbying contracts to the Florida House, that rule has not been enforced. The House's much vaunted web page was not updated for a year and some lobbyists neglected for months to comply with the required disclosures.
Tampa Bay Times



"Despite an ethics rule that requires Florida lobbyists for taxpayer-funded entities submit lobbying contracts to the Florida House, that rule has not been enforced."


editorials & columns


"We long for the day when Virginia might join the ranks of those states in opening the people’s government to the people themselves."

In less than 10 years, body cameras have become an almost ubiquitous part of a police officer’s uniform, but as is typical, the laws governing their use and the public’s right of access to the footage have yet to catch up to the technology, especially in Virginia. Four high-profile incidents, three different outcomes. In on case, the public learns that, yes, its law enforcement officers acted properly and with tremendous discretion. In the other incidents, denied access to the videos, the public, rightly or wrongly, is left to wonder if police are hiding something. And in the police/public relationship, even a twinge of doubt can be poisonous. As is the case with much of government, transparency results in public trust of civil institutions, while secrecy and closed doors breeds mistrust. “Sunshine laws” are the order of the day in many states, Florida being the most open with records. We long for the day when Virginia might join the ranks of those states, perhaps even equaling Florida in opening the people’s government to the people themselves.
The News & Advance