Transparency News 5/24/18



May 24, 2018


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editorials & columns


"It’s clear that Martinsville officials had something very different in mind: stifling legitimate inquiries from a citizen whom they consider a pest."

Is there a “sensitive stuff” exception to the Freedom of Information act? Some officials in Martinsville seem to think so. Judge Carter Greer recently issued an order sealing the records of a city investigation into how a project funded through the state’s Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund cratered. Courts often seal records, and some government activities — investigations, in particular — take place behind closed doors. Judge Greer might have thought he was issuing a routine order in response to a routine request. But it’s clear that Martinsville officials had something very different in mind: stifling legitimate inquiries from a citizen whom they consider a pest. That’s not kosher — and it needs correcting.
Richmond Times-Dispatch


stories of national interest

“NO TAKE-BACKS” is a common rule on the elementary school playground. It is not the rule when it comes to public records in the state of California, where public agencies can and do try to claw back documents after they’ve released them, and where one school district recently asked a court to award it $450,000 from a citizen who had obtained records the district later withdrew. CALIFORNIA IS UNUSUAL in having a clear precedent that allows for some clawback of public records releases. David Cuillier, the director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and a professor there who teaches courses on public records and government transparency, says he’s not aware of any such provision in federal law.
Columbia Journalism Review

A battle that has been waged for five years came to an apparent close Wednesday morning when the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton (South Carolina) Chamber of Commerce is not a public body and is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. That means the public has no right to ask the chamber how it spends tax dollars. The court issued the opinion Wednesday morning on a case filed in 2013 against the local Chamber by, a company owned by local government critic Skip Hoagland. Justice John Cannon Few issued a separate, dissenting opinion on the matter.
The Island Packet

President Donald Trump can't block Twitter users critical of his policies from following him on the social network, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. Seven Twitter users sued Trump in July after the president blocked them for criticizing or mocking him on the social network. The group argued the practice violates the First Amendment. US District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald agreed with the seven, ruling that a public official may not block people from his or her Twitter account in response to the political views the people have expressed, even if that official is the president of the United States. "We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account -- the 'interactive space' where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President's tweets -- are properly analyzed under the 'public forum' doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment," the judge wrote in her ruling.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is fighting a drive by media organizations to unseal secret court filings relating to searches and surveillance efforts undertaken as part of the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

EPA staff Wednesday morning barred POLITICO and reporters from at least two other publications from entering a national summit on toxic chemicals, a day after a partial media blackout at the same event brought criticism from congressional Democrats and a pledge by the White House to investigate the incident. The agency on Tuesday had allowed a select group of reporters to cover the first hour of the summit's introductory remarks, including comments by Administrator Scott Pruitt, but then escorted press out. EPA reversed its decision to ban media after news coverage of the policy and reports from the Associated Press that one of its journalists was forcibly ejected from the building by a security guard. Reporters were invited back for Tuesday afternoon. But on Wednesday, the agency again said no reporters would be allowed to attend.

Each year, the New York DMV makes millions by selling your information to the highest bidder. There is nothing you can do about it. It is completely legal. The practice is protected by federal and state law. The DMV details how it shares information on its website, but there are no signs at local branches or disclaimers on registration documents. There is also nothing letting drivers know how the deletion process works.