Transparency News 5/18/18



May 18, 2018


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state & local news stories


“I sought that order to keep Ural Harris from meddling.  Ural Harris has a tendency to second guess everything the city does. I was not going to have him (essentially) direct our investigation.”

In the case of Marian Bragg vs the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the local llama farmer’s appeal of a lower Rappahannock County Circuit Court ruling surrounding enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The state’s high court reversed a May 2017 decision by Judge Alfred D. Swersky, a substitute in Rappahannock’s 20th Judicial Circuit, and remanded the case back for further proceedings consistent with their opinion. Bragg’s original petition, filed in 2017 in Rappahannock County Circuit Court, declared that certain actions taken by the supervisors violated Virginia’s FOIA during the closed portion of several BOS meetings in the summer and fall of 2016. Swersky denied Bragg’s petition to enforce the FOIA, finding that certain procedural aspects of the complaint had not been met.
Rappahannock News
Read the opinion

Any information the City of Martinsville receives from Dr. Noel Boaz regarding the Henricopolis School of Medicine will be sealed until the investigation is complete. That was the order handed down by Martinsville Judge G. Carter Greer, in response to a request by City of Martinsville Attorney Eric Monday. Judge Greer also set a timeframe for when some of the information could be released. In April, Monday filed the request with Judge Greer, requesting that any information the city receives from Boaz be sealed during the investigation. Greer entered the order, requiring Boaz to provide the city registers for the medical school, ICSM and Henricopolis Holding Inc., that note current stockholders and any prior issuances, classifications, reclassifications, transfers, redemptions or cancellations of stock. There is one catch, however. “Under no circumstances shall the stock registers be disclosed to any third party entity unless directed by court order, even after the expiration of the aforesaid six months,” reads the document, which was made retroactive to the start of the investigation on Sept. 27, 2017. Asked during a phone interview about who sought the order and why, Monday said “I sought that order to keep Ural Harris from meddling into” the probe. “I specifically had Ural Harris in mind” when seeking the order, Monday emphasized. “Ural Harris has a tendency to second guess everything the city does,” he said. “I was not going to have him (essentially) direct our investigation.”
Martinsville Bulletin

By the time Danville police told the public about the capture of a person of interest in Monday’s homicide it was already old news — sort of. Greensboro, North Carolina, police beat them to the punch by an hour with a news release that told not only of the capture, but also of the shootout between their officers and the person of interest. It’s a tidbit local authorities never mentioned. Roughly 40 minutes later, the North Carolina police department held a news conference in the same neighborhood as the shootout. Back in Danville, about 20 minutes later, local police sent out the first news release naming Diairion Marqui Davis, 30, of Reidsville, North Carolina. “He was located in Greensboro and will be extradited back to Virginia at a later date,” the news release stated. That was all the description given of the event. It did not mention the shootout with Greensboro police. In fact, there was no mention at all that he was captured, only that they found him. “We didn’t want to trespass with Greensboro’s release [regarding the shootout] by giving information that happened in Greensboro,” Danville Lt. Michael Wallace explained. “It’s an incident that took place in Greensboro.”
Register & Bee


stories of national interest

The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled on Tuesday that a person seeking records under the state’s Open Public Records Act does not have to be a resident of the state. Under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), “citizens” are entitled to records. The court ruled that “citizens” is meant to apply to the general public. “Because OPRA is to be construed broadly to achieve the Legislature’s over-arching goal of making public records freely available, we conclude that the right to request records under OPRA is not limited to ‘citizens’ of New Jersey,” reads the decision. Harry Scheeler, an open government activist who moved from New Jersey to North Carolina in 2014, submitted an OPRA request seeking records about legal bills from the Atlantic County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund. The fund administrator and its records custodian refused to provide what they characterized as “confidential and privileged memos” for ongoing litigation.  After Scheeler filed an OPRA lawsuit in Burlington County, they contended that he had no standing to request documents under OPRA because he was not a citizen of New Jersey. The judge in the case concluded that the right to request public records under OPRA is not limited to New Jersey citizens. The judge also found that the “confidential memos” were not memoranda at all, but were simply detailed legal invoices. The judge concluded that OPRA required the clerk for the public agency to produce them, but he permitted the clerk to redact any attorney-client privileged material or work product. The judge also awarded Scheeler counsel fees for the litigation.
Planet Princeton

It may take up to several hours for one police staffer to process a half-hour long body cam video in order to provide a copy to the public, to the press, to attorneys, or in response to Freedom of Information requests. If there are three or four officers involved in the same incident, each with their own half-hour video of the same action, that could add up to a day and a half or two days’ work. And there are on average 12 requests coming in per week. That’s why help is on the way as the city of New Haven, Connecticut, has just posted a notice that it is looking to hire a civilian employee to process body cam video. The work involves going “screen by screen,” Cain said. Depending on the material being reviewed, the tech will use specialized software to blur faces, to eliminate names in order, for example, to maintain confidentiality and to protect juveniles or the names of people involved in sexual assault situations, she said. Other responsibilities of the job entail serving as liaison between the department and Axon, the company providing the equipment; working with the department’s information technology staff on in-house issues; and picking up on Freedom of Information requests.
New Haven Independent



"Because New Jersey's open records act is to be construed broadly to achieve the Legislature’s over-arching goal of making public records freely available, we conclude that the right to request records under OPRA is not limited to ‘citizens’ of New Jersey."


editorials & columns


"Why would an employee of a state agency ask for emails between journalists who’ve made the agency and the governor look bad?"

Recently, the Virginia Supreme Court determined that pictures of license plates, required by law to be publicly displayed on registered vehicles in the Commonwealth, are personal information. The result: law enforcement may not be able to leverage the type of alert that the trooper in the Flanagan case received, because it was not on a “hotlist” when the vehicle passed the trooper. The Virginia Supreme Court clearly acknowledges that license plates contain no personal information. The court faltered, however, in its reasoning that taking a picture of that non-personal information triggers the application of the Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (Virginia Data Act). This ruling is a powerful acknowledgement of the anonymous nature of license plate data but a confusing course for law enforcement officers who access that same data to solve crimes and keep communities safe.
Carl Szabo, The Roanoke Times

The most intriguing part of dustups over Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Quincy Veterans Home, where 13 people have died from Legionnaire’s disease, isn’t epidemiology.  WBEZ has been on the Legionnaires’ story like shit super-glued to a shoe, repeatedly making Rauner look stupid as the governor says that nothing’s broken when, thanks to the station’s reporting, it’s clear that his administration did dumb stuff. After the station broke the story in December, the state health department turned smartass, demanding a formal request under the state Freedom of Information Act when legislators asked for who-knew-what-when documents. The department eventually turned over paper files instead of electronic copies, with documents jumbled out of chronological order and peppered with bogus redactions. And so no one should have been surprised when the University of Illinois last month got a records request from William Bryant, who is the FOIA officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health. Bryant asked for copies of all emails exchanged between talk show host Niala Boodhoo, who is employed by the university’s public radio station in Champaign, and anyone with a WBEZ email account. The request was sent five weeks after Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the state health department, appeared on Boodhoo’s show and got some tough questions. Why would an employee of a state agency ask for emails between journalists who’ve made the agency and the governor look bad?
Bruce Rushton, Illinois Times