Transparency News 5/22/19



May 22, 2019


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state & local news stories


"He said his office did not properly notify the public of the meeting because of staffing changes."

Susan [Gray] Eakin Page, a digital archives coordinator at the Library of Virginia, considers the painstaking process of making former Gov. Tim Kaine’s records accessible online “one of her babies.” Kaine turned over more than 900 boxes of paper records and almost two million electronic records when he left office in 2010. Library staff began reviewing emails and files and adding it to an online database for the public to access. When the first round of emails — 66,000 — went online in 2014, staff celebrated the achievement, saying Virginia was one of the first state libraries in the country to do something like that. “But we found out not everyone found our baby as cute as we did,” Page said. Lawmakers have put pressure on the library to work faster, but have shied away from giving the library funding it would need to do so. Right now, the work of processing and adding electronic gubernatorial files to a digital archive is funded by federal grants and donated methods, like artificial intelligence, Page said during a presentation at the Library of Virginia Tuesday.
Virginia Mercury

The Hampton Roads Regional Jail needs 113 additional officers and a second full-time psychiatrist to comply with the findings of a U.S. Justice Department investigation, the jail's board was told Thursday, according to a Portsmouth Sheriff's Office official. The additional officers would cost the jail about $7 million annually, said Col. Marvin Waters Jr., the Portsmouth undersheriff and a spokesman for Sheriff Michael Moore. Waters did not attend the meeting but said a representative from the sheriff’s office reported back to him. Jail Superintendent David Hackworth said he wouldn’t discuss the meeting because it was conducted in closed session to talk about possible litigation. The Freedom of Information Act allows government officials to keep discussions made in closed session secret. He said his office did not properly notify the public of the meeting because of staffing changes.“That’s my fault,” he said. Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron and Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O'Sullivan, both of whom sit on the regional jail’s board, declined to comment on the proposed increase because it was discussed in a closed session. “Everything said in that room was part of a discussion in response to the DOJ report and is not concrete, and therefore I cannot comment on specifics,” Baron said. “But I can tell you that what Portsmouth has reported is not entirely accurate.”
The Virginian-Pilot

Front Royal Vice Mayor William Sealock said Monday the town will appoint an interim mayor next week. The need to appoint an interim mayor comes after the resignation of former Mayor Hollis Tharpe on May 2, shortly after he was charged with a misdemeanor count of prostitution solicitation, allegations he has denied. After a mayoral resignation, town code stipulates that an interim mayor be appointed within 45 days, or by June 16. The town has the option to either appoint a sitting councilman or a qualified citizen. Sealock said after a closed meeting of more than an hour that the town has approached six potential candidates to fill Tharpe’s seat; three of those individuals are interested in the position. If a councilman were appointed as interim mayor, that would require that the town also fill that councilman’s empty seat. That will not be a concern, as none of the candidates are sitting councilmen, Sealock said. He declined to provide any other indication of the candidates’ identities.
The Northern Virginia Daily

The attorney general has yet to weigh in on whether the Tourism Council is a public body, and as such subject to open meeting requirements and fulfillment of information requests by the public. Tourism Council chairman Jeff Wassmer provided a brief update during the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday.  Wassmer said Sen. Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment’s office has sent a letter inquiring about the Tourism Council’s status to the attorney general’s office. A legal opinion is anticipated in a matter of weeks. Norment sponsored the legislation that created the Tourism Council. “He’s in a better position to ask the attorney general,” Wassmer said after the meeting, adding that since the inquiry comes on Norment’s letterhead, it might expedite the process.
The Virginia Gazette

A police report says a Virginia fugitive died from injuries suffered in a police chase in West Virginia. The Charleston Gazette Mail reports Dunbar police have been tight-lipped about the March 11 chase, but released the report after the newspaper filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The report says 31-year-old Daniel Chad Waller of Norfolk, Virginia, was a “wanted fugitive” and gave police a false name during a traffic stop before officers determined his identity. The report says Waller fled, lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a building. It says he died April 8 due to his injuries. The report didn’t indicate what charges Waller faced. A Virginia State Police spokeswoman said state law prohibits police from disclosing a person’s criminal record.
The Washington Post


stories of national interest

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos used her personal email accounts for official business in “limited” cases, according to results of an internal investigation released on Monday. In a report of its findings, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said it surveyed DeVos and 51 other political appointees as of Nov. 9, 2017, “to determine whether the officials and the Secretary received the Department’s records management training and used their personal email and/or messaging accounts to conduct government business.” Across DeVos’s four known personal email addresses, investigators found “a limited number of emails” — fewer than 100 — that included government business and were sent or received between Jan. 20, 2017, and April 10, 2018, or the first few months of DeVos’s tenure, the report says.
The Hill

The state of Michigan sent emergency financial managers to run Flint like a business before and during the city's water crisis. But four years after the last one left town, bills from their attorneys keep mounting at City Hall, and the state is long gone. Records obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal through the Freedom of Information Act show the cost of providing attorneys to former emergency managers Ed Kurtz, Gerald Ambrose and Darnell Earley has reached $1.6 million and counting. The bulk of the bills have been accumulated  by Earley, who has been represented by four different law firms at a cost of more than $1.2 million to Flint taxpayers, city records show.

The San Francisco police chief said Tuesday that he respects the news media, but a freelance journalist whose home and office were raided by officers had “crossed the line” by joining a conspiracy to steal a confidential report. Chief William Scott addressed reporters hours after police agreed in court to return property seized from Bryan Carmody in raids aimed at uncovering the source of a leaked police report into the unexpected death of the city’s former elected public defender, Jeff Adachi. Tensions are high in the case, which has alarmed journalism advocates and put pressure on elected leaders in the politically liberal city to defend the press. Authorities believe a police department employee was involved and had contact with Carmody. “We believe that that contact and that interaction went across the line. It went past just doing your job as a journalist,” Scott said.
Courthouse News Service



quote_2.jpg“We believe that that contact and that interaction went across the line. It went past just doing your job as a journalist." -- San Francisco Police Chief William Scott 


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"The appearance of conflict can be as damaging as the real thing.You don’t need an optometrist’s chart to realize that this hire blurred ethics and accountability."

In a column published in this newspaper on his first day of office, Mayor Levar Stoney said restoring trust in city government was his first order of business. But 2½ years into Stoney’s term, City Hall continues to receive low grades on accountability. The most recent example is the March hiring of the daughter of Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn. It flunks the transparency test because Alexis Glenn’s job in the Department of Public Utilities was never publicly listed, because filling the position was deemed urgent. It doesn’t pass the credulity test because that “urgent” position of administrative program support assistant had been vacant for five months before Glenn started her 90-day assignment. And it fails the fairness test because Alexis Glenn is paid $26.44 an hour — more than all but three of the 130 employees with the same title, as Times-Dispatch staffer Mark Robinson reported last week. The appearance of conflict can be as damaging as the real thing.You don’t need an optometrist’s chart to realize that this hire blurred ethics and accountability. This situation doesn’t pass the eye test or the smell test.
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch

More than six months after Saudi government agents brutally murdered Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration has yet to publicly reveal what it knows about the crime and how it has handled the investigation. But a federal judge is pressing the U.S. government to release more information, and faster - or the court could force it to do so.  On April 19, the federal court for the Southern District of New York held its first hearing in the Open Society Justice Initiative’s case against seven government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act. The nongovernmental organization, funded by George Soros, is trying to compel the U.S. government - including the CIA, the Justice Department and the State Department - to produce all records related to the killing and the killers, including the CIA’s reported assessment that the murder was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
Josh Rogin, The Washington Post