Transparency News 5/29/14

Thursday, May 29, 2014

State and Local Stories

Fresh off the program’s most successful season since 1995, Virginia assistant basketball coaches Ritchie McKay, Jason Williford and Ron Sanchez have been rewarded. On Tuesday, the Daily Progresslearned through a Freedom of Information Act request that the coaches -- who have worked under head coach Tony Bennett since his arrival five years ago -- have all received new contracts.
Daily Progress

Chesterfield County leaders will continue to study how the U.S. Supreme Court decision on prayers at public meetings affects its policy after consulting with the county attorney for half an hour Wednesday. Religious leaders will no longer be advised to keep prayers generic and nonsectarian, but it remains unclear whether representatives of religions outside of traditional monotheistic religions will be allowed to offer public prayer before public meetings.

Other local governments in the Fredericksburg area—several of which begin public meetings with prayers, some of them explicitly Christian—also don’t appear to be planning any major changes in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. The city of Fredericksburg may be the exception. In light of the Supreme Court decision, Fredericksburg City Attorney Kathleen Dooley has reviewed a city policy that allows only nondenominational prayers at meetings. The City Council will discuss the issue in closed session at its June 10 meeting and may take action two weeks later.
Free Lance-Star

Members of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors remain at odds over whether to broadcast their meetings through online video. The issue, which surfaced in early February, flared again Tuesday night when Supervisor Conrad Helsley announced he had obtained commitments from private donors willing to pay for the annual cost of $1,200 needed to add video to existing audio bandwith. A one-time cost of $2,200 to pay for new cameras is also part of the package. Supervisor Cindy Bailey, who criticized the initial proposal for online video more than three months ago, remained unmoved. Bailey has called the proposal an unnecessary expense. She pressed Helsley to disclose the identities of the donors he said he has lined up. She also repeated earlier objections to maintenance and other ongoing costs associated with video equipment.
Northern Virginia Daily

Thirty-three states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws authorizing public-private partnerships, but only 15 have closed deals using them. Eight states account for 75 percent of all P3 investments in the United States. Globally, only 9 percent of P3 money went to the U.S. between 1985 and 2014. State and local leaders may look to the private sector for help because of their own strained budgets, but that may leave them in a weaker position when negotiating contracts. "Strong state finances often produce more balanced deals," says Douglas Koelemay of Virginia, one of the states with the most P3 experiences. Koelemay, who heads the state's Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships, also stresses the need for an open process in developing the agreements.Public notice and comment periods are often "sterile" and yield little useful information. But more public involvement can help planners develop better projects, Koelemay says, because they can understand the public's concerns as consumers of transportation services.

National Stories

Bloomington, Ill., Mayor Tari Renner wants elected officials, not hired staff, to have more say on disputed requests from the public for city records. Renner’s call for more oversight stems from the city’s recent denial of a Pantagraph Freedom of Information Act request seeking details about the termination of Bloomington Police Officer Brenton VanHoveln, who allegedly falsified documents. The Pantagraph is asking the public access counselor in the state attorney general's office to review the city’s denial and require it to release the records. “It’s not just transparency, it’s political accountability,” Renner said. Don Craven, Illinois Press Association attorney, said Renner’s idea of council involvement carries both pros and cons. 

One week after the Obama administration said it would comply with a federal appeals court ruling ordering it to make public portions of a Justice Department memo that signed off on the targeted killing of a United States citizen, the administration is now asking the court for permission to censor additional passages of the document.
New York Times

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday to allow third-party records and email to be admitted as evidence in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a congressional redistricting plan, but also held that the materials must be under seal and the courtroom closed when attorneys discuss the materials. This ruling overturns an appellate court's decision not to let in the records of political consultant Pat Bainter and his consulting firm, Data Targeting, Inc., which Bainter argued contained trade secrets. The League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other democratic voters had wanted to use the documents as evidence in their challenge to the redistricting plan, which they say was created in an illegal manner and unfairly favors Republicans.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Internet service providers and the entertainment industry are ramping up their joint initiative to crack down on online piracy without going through lengthy court proceedings. In 2013, Internet providers sent 1.3 million notices over alleged copyright violations, according to the first statistics on the Copyright Alert System.
National Journal

In his first interview with a U.S. broadcasting company since going public with revelations about NSA surveillance last year, Edward Snowden responded to his critics on a number of topics including addressing accusations that he’s working for Russia, that he failed to go through official channels to register his concerns about the NSA before going public and that he’s a coward for not returning to the U.S. to face espionage charges. Responding to criticism by U.S. lawmakers and others that he should have gone through official NSA channels to express his concerns about surveillance programs instead of exposing classified programs, Snowden said he did in fact register his concerns via official channels. “The NSA has records, they have copies of emails right now to their Office of General Counsel, to their oversight and compliance folks, from me raising concerns about the NSA’s interpretations of its legal authorities,” he said.


Virginians who had hoped to avoid the spectacle of a public corruption trial of the state's former governor and first lady appear unlikely to get their wish. A federal judge rejected requests last week to throw out the charges or to grant Bob and Maureen McDonnell separate trials. In doing so, the judge made it more likely that the McDonnells will spend late July and August in a courtroom, with a media throng inside and outside the courthouse, and a parade of witnesses disclosing details about the first family's financial woes and about the wealthy benefactor currying favor for his own struggling nutritional supplement company. Even the former governor's most strident opponents don't want to see this. 

A local news station obtained a copy of an open letter that the students wrote to UVA professor Douglas Laycock; notably absent is any malfeasance they hope to uncover through the FOIA request, other than Laycock's writing things they disagree with. They do say they want a dialogue, but they seem to have an exceedingly strange idea of what constitutes a good icebreaker. Is it too obvious to point out that this is not what FOIA requests are for? Well, apparently it’s not obvious to the students, Greg Lewis and Stephanie Montenegro, so let’s go ahead and point that out. The purpose of the requests is to allow citizens and taxpayers to keep track of what their public servants are doing, not to hassle public servants whose opinions you don’t like.

Mixing prayer and state has always been a messy, contentious business – but last week it got even messier and more contentious. Before the ink was dry on the Court’s ruling, Al Bedrosian, a county supervisor in Roanoke, Va., announced plans to jettison the county’s nonsectarian prayer policy and get back to the good old days of Christian prayers at every Board of Supervisors’ meeting. Asked by The Roanoke Times whether non-Christians would be invited to prayer under a new policy, Bedrosian said that was unlikely since “the freedom of religion doesn’t mean every religion has to be heard.”Supervisor Bedrosian needs to read the fine print. Justice Kennedy, it turns out, lays out specific ground rules for legislative prayers: No proselytizing. No denigrating other faiths. And the government must have a non-discrimination policy when selecting people to pray.
Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center

As New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will soon discover, adding religious holidays to the school calendar is a slippery slope on the rocky terrain of public school politics.
Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center