Transparency News 5/21/18



May 21, 2018


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state & local news stories


"Richmond Fed General Counsel Michelle H. Gluck replied to the request by claiming the Richmond Fed is not an agency subject to the act."

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s efforts in 2017 to broaden the field of candidates for their vacant president’s post by consulting with community groups were “essential” but produced “minimal direct results,” according to correspondence between Fed officials. Under pressure from activists to find a minority or woman president, the Richmond Fed’s board of directors, and the search firm they hired, reached out to more than 70 organizations “whose missions include a focus on diversity and inclusion” as they searched for qualified candidates, the letter showed. The document was released to Bloomberg News Friday under a Freedom of Information Act request. The single document released Friday came in response to a December request from Bloomberg for records related to the search and selection process under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Richmond Fed General Counsel Michelle H. Gluck replied to the request by claiming the Richmond Fed is not an agency subject to the act, and that many records covered by the request would qualify for exemptions under the act.

An online survey used to help investigate complaints of a hostile work environment at the Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services is finished, completing the first phase of the state’s investigation into the allegations. The anonymous survey, created by the state’s Richmond-headquartered DSS office, garnered responses by 48 employees, amounting to 75 percent of the county agency’s 64 employees. The survey closed May 11. Since February, the county social services board tasked with overseeing the local agency has looked into such complaints as harassment, intimidation and retaliation at the department, show documents the Register & Bee obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request.
Register & Bee


stories of national interest

Not all government public records policies are helping to make records more accessible to residents — especially for those who can’t easily prove state residency — a new audit from the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has found. The audit of municipalities, counties and school districts found that 84 percent of the 259 policies obtained and analyzed by the nonprofit advocacy group between October and March required the person making a request to provide identification proving Tennessee residency. “It’s an example of a requirement that seems to have very little purpose,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of TCOG. “Even if the person wasn’t a citizen of Tennessee, why would you withhold the minutes of a public meeting?”
Bristol Herald Courier
Though most cities, counties and school districts in Tennessee list in their policies contact information for who will handle public records requests, less than half included an email address to which the public can direct those requests. That’s one of the findings of an audit of government entities across the state by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, which examined 259 policies between October and March. Under a state law passed in 2016, government entities in Tennessee were required to establish a written policy by July 1, 2017, on requests for public records, including the name, title and contact information for the person in charge of coordinating public record requests. State law also requires that government entities using email to transact business must accept records requests through email.
Bristol Herald Courier
Click here for the TCOG audit

The Trump administration is again fighting for greater secrecy in a Clinton-focused investigation: this time, the independent counsel probe that explored President Bill Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. A raft of court records from grand jury-related proceedings related to the investigation have remained secret for two decades, but last month a federal judge — acting on a request from CNN — ruled that the vast majority of the files should be made public. But early Wednesday, the Justice Department appealed that decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The move is likely to delay the release of the request information for months or longer.



“Even if the person wasn’t a citizen of Tennessee, why would you withhold the minutes of a public meeting?”


editorials & columns


If the records are exempt or prohibited from release, then respond with the appropriate citation and be done with it. But if they're not...if they're sensitive but not exempt...if they're sensitive but not prohibited...if they're being requested by someone who bothers the snot out of you...that's not relevant!
Megan Rhyne, VCOG Blog

A state jail-death investigator has closed 17 of 53 cases so far. The Board of Corrections has discussed them in closed session. But the details remain hidden from public view. That’s ridiculous. The last thing jailhouse deaths like that of Jamycheal Mitchell need is more secrecy. More secrecy is not the answer. The General Assembly might have made a mistake when it allowed the Board of Corrections to oversee the jail-deaths issue, and the hiring of a longtime Department of Corrections veteran to do the investigating could raise concerns about just whose interests are being looked after.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Something was seriously wrong with Marcus-David Peters — that much is clear. What isn’t clear, yet, is whether his death was wrongful as well. We commend Chief Alfred Durham for his decision to release the body camera footage after Peters’ family has viewed it. He should also release any video the police collect from witnesses. Withholding such information leaves the impression that the police have something to hide.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Under the new policy [at UVA], a person or group wishing to speak, assemble or distribute printed information on Grounds must make reservations at least a week ahead of time. Groups are restricted in number from 25 to 50 people, and they can speak no more than two hours at one of nine areas on Grounds designated where such activities can be held. We believe that policy runs counter to the very heart of what Jefferson wanted the university to be. “This institution,” he wrote in 1820, “will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
The News & Advance