Transparency News 5/19/17

Friday, May 19, 2017

State and Local Stories

In an email to Portsmouth City Council members, City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton said “there is no wrong doing by officers” who a Portsmouth activist said handcuffed him after he asked police to help a friend late Monday. Rocky Hines, co-founder of the Coalition of Black Americans, said he called police after a friend texted him saying she was afraid of a group of men circling her car. She was worried they might rape her. When Hines arrived on the scene, police asked for his ID. Later, he said, an officer handcuffed him after discovering he was driving on a suspended license. “The police body cameras confirms the report by Police of the actions displayed, and revealed the aggressive, disorderly conduct, vulgar language, racial slurs, and threats made to Police by citizen,” Pettis Patton wrote in the email, obtained by The Pilot on Thursday. “Police have investigated this matter and there is no wrong doing by officers in handling this matter.” In a phone call Thursday, Pettis Patton clarified that those were early findings based on a “verbal update” by police officials. She had not seen body camera footage.

Charges against two Altavista Town Council members accused of alleged prohibited activity at the polls on Election Day 2016 were dropped May 9, online court records show. Michele “Micki” Kathleen Brumfield and James Hunter Higginbotham were arrested March 14 and 15, respectively. Neither was held in the Campbell County Adult Detention Center after the charges were filed, according to the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority website. The charges were brought by Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Doucette, acting as a special prosecutor. Doucette was traveling this week and could not be reached to explain why the charges were dropped. Higginbotham chose not to comment. Brumfield could not be reached for comment. Altavista’s Town Manager Waverly Coggsdale also chose not to comment. 
News & Advance

Richmond City Council earlier this week heard a report on the state’s 400 million dollars worth of construction projects downtown, including a new General Assembly Building. The move has already begun. The new General Assembly building will be about more technology, more transparency and more space. Senate Clerk Susan Schaar said, “this session we were averaging 5,000 visitors a day.”

National Stories

BuzzFeed is suing the federal government for records about President Donald Trump's use of Twitter, including his most attention-grabbing tweets claiming that he was wiretapped by former President Barack Obama. The White House is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, so the suit demands information from about half a dozen government agencies, including the Justice Department, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Office of Director of National Intelligence. The suit could turn up some communications with the White House, however, if those appear in agency files.

Arkansas is launching a hotline and a website where the public can submit ideas to improve state government and make it more efficient. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday announced the launch of the MyIdea project, which will include a hotline and site that will be staffed by the Department of Finance and Administration. DFA will determine which agency is best equipped to handle an idea submitted and forward it to that agency. Hutchinson says agencies will have 30 days to evaluate and report back on the idea submitted.

The Texas House has thwarted an effort to patch what some called “glaring loopholes” in public records law, recently punched by the Texas Supreme Court. In a last-ditch maneuver last week, the Senate attached a slew of amendments aiming to bolster access to government information — key provisions of bills languishing in a House committee — to legislation the House had already approved. The aim was to muscle the proposals to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk all at once. But the House parliamentarian on Thursday ruled the amendments were not relevant to the original bill. Among other things, the amendments would have cracked down on — and potentially disciplined — officials who try skirting public records law by refusing to turn over public information resulting from official business conducted on personal electronic devices and reversed part of a 2010 Texas Supreme Court ruling that said government employee birth dates were no longer public records;
Texas Tribune