Transparency News 5/16/13


Thursday, May 16, 2013

State and Local Stories

Tidewater Review: King William County is denying allegations that it violated Virginia's Freedom of Information Act during an April 19 special-called meeting. The claims made in a lawsuit filed by the Town of West Point on April 29 state that the Board of Supervisors did not properly convene or certify a closed meeting that afternoon. The Town's suit claims that the Board of Supervisors violated state code by never referencing a specific legal matter it was to discuss in closed session, as well as never voting to reconvene the open meeting following the completion of the closed session. "This entire process of setting the tax levy for the coming year has been smoke and mirrors. The closed meeting, as conducted, was not in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act," Town Attorney Andrea Erard said last month.

Times-Dispatch: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has appointed outside counsel to represent Gov. Bob McDonnell in the felony embezzlement case of former Executive Mansion chef Todd Schneider. Former Virginia Attorney General Anthony F. Troy will serve as McDonnell’s lawyer in the case, according to an appointment letter written by Cuccinelli’s office and obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch under the Freedom of Information Act.

Times-Dispatch: The Sons of Confederate Veterans is challenging in a federal appeals court Lexington's limits on the flying of the Confederate flag. Arguments are scheduled this morning before three judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Virginian-Pilot: Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is channeling his criticism of what he sees as the Virginia Republican Party's hard right veer into action by forming the Virginia Mainstream Project, a political committee focused on electing mainstream GOP candidates to the General Assembly.

Martinsville Bulletin: Martinsville officials aim to find ways to control public comments posted on the city’s Facebook page following a controversy over a student-designed quilt and Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge’s negative reaction to it. City staff members recently removed from the social networking website remarks stemming from the controversy that they deemed inappropriate. Some people perceived that the city was trying to stifle free speech, but that was not the intent, City Manager Leon Towarnicki said after Tuesday night’s Martinsville City Council meeting. “Folks have the right to express their opinions,” he said, but it was decided that some of the comments were “inappropriate to be displayed on a government-sponsored (Web) page.”

InsideNOVA: The Manassas police department recently completed itsannual review of citizen and internal complaints regarding sworn officers and civilian employees, according to a city news release.

Leesburg Today: Loudoun County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) addressed an aroused Rural Economic Development Council this morning at the County Government Center in an effort to clear up “some misunderstandings.” York was speaking about the recommendations of a study initiated last May to streamline the county’s 51 advisory panels. The board is scheduled to take a first look at the resulting report, brought forward by Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge), Wednesday afternoon. One of those recommendations would result in the REDC being demoted from its current status of an advisory board appointed by the Board of Supervisors to become a community-based group, with no government staff support. That possibility caused dismay among the rural business leaders who volunteer for the council and prompted the call for this morning’s special meeting.


National Stories

The White House asked Wednesday that a federal shield law be reintroduced in the Senate, a move that could affect the way the Justice Department conducts investigations into leaks of secret government information.

State Department officials repeatedly objected to -- and tried to water down -- references to Islamic extremist groups and prior security warnings in the administration's initial internal story-line on the Benghazi attack, according to dozens of emails and notes released by the White House late Wednesday.
FOX News

A federal judge has refused to block a New Orleans television station from using surveillance camera video of a confrontation last year inside a supermarket between store employees and an alleged shoplifter who died weeks later.
First Amendment Center

Baltimore police beat up a woman and smashed her camera for filming them beating up a man, telling her: "You want to film something bitch? Film this!" the woman claims in court. Makia Smith sued the Baltimore Police Department, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and police Officers Nathan Church, William Pilkerton, Jr., Nathan Ulmer and Kenneth Campbell in Federal Court.
Courthouse News Service

The New Yorker on Tuesday introduced its new, anonymous electronic tip tool Strongbox, coincidentally on the heels of renewed concerns over privacy for journalists’ sources following revelations of Department of Justice surveillance of AP staffers (which The Washington Post’s Timothy B. Lee notes is “likely perfectly legal”) The Strongbox site ostensibly allows people to submit letters, documents, emails or any other files to the New Yorker anonymously. It was developed in conjunction with Wired investigations editor Kevin Poulsen and the late Web activist and developer Aaron Swartz, who hanged himself in January after facing charges of wire fraud and computer fraud. Poulsen, whose publication also is owned by New Yorker parent Conde Nast, wrote about Swartz’s involvement, and why Strongbox was a necessity.

Last month, freshman Rep. Patty Kim, D-Harrisburg, spent $1,641 of your money to operate her district office, host Harrisburg High School students, for postage and to buy flags. The month before, she spent $2,548. She announced today that she will post all of her expenses on her website to be accountable to her constituents. She is the latest lawmaker who has decided to be upfront about her legislative expenses that not too many years ago required making a written request for the records from the Pennsylvania House Chief Clerk’s office and a trip to Harrisburg.
(Harrisburg) Patriot-News

Attorney General Eric Holder became the White House's highest ranking official Tuesday to support sweeping privacy protections requiring the government, for the first time, to get a probable-cause warrant to obtain e-mail and other content stored in the cloud.



Daily Press: The United States Supreme Court, in a milquetoast unanimous decision authored by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., recently ruled that it is constitutional for Virginia to deny nonresidents rights under the state's Freedom of Information Act. We think all nine justices in this case got it wrong. In an era when citizens move and change jobs often, own property in more than one jurisdiction, and engage in commercial transactions across state lines, a law that says only residents can seek information routinely kept by local and state governments is outdated and provincial.

Times-Dispatch: What is shocking is that none of this is particularly shocking. For decades, presidents of both political parties have wielded the IRS as a weapon against their foes. But the current case contains a special irony: The agency targeted tea party groups that expressed concern about abusive taxation by an overbearing government that has grown beyond its proper limits.Rather than weakening such groups, the IRS has simply managed to prove them right.

Los Angeles Times: When the government obstructs the ability of a news organization to do its job, the most important victims are not journalists but readers. That's why long-standing guidelines set clear limits on how Justice Department prosecutors are expected to behave when interacting with the news media. "In recognition of the importance of freedom of the press to a free and democratic society," the government's own rules say, subpoenas for reporter's records or notes must be personally authorized by the attorney general, may be issued only after other sources are exhausted and are expected to be limited in scope to avoid gratuitous invasion into news gathering.

Ken Paulson, First Amendment CenterThis is the week the First Amendment was made for. Those of us who regularly work on freedom of expression issues are sometimes hard-pressed to convey the urgency of protecting these core freedoms. Concepts like freedom of speech, faith and assembly can seem abstract. Many view freedom of the press as just a news media issue. And few recognize the role of petition in shaping our nation. But this week we learned that the Internal Revenue Service used its power to impede conservative political organizations with “patriot” and “tea party” in their names. They’ve even targeted groups that try to educate the public about constitutional issues. (We’ll try not to take that personally.) Days later, we discovered that the U.S. Department of Justice had seized the records of phone calls made from 20 lines used by about 100 Associated Press journalists.  There was no advance notice to the AP and no communication with the news organization beyond a brief e-mail sent on Friday.