Transparency News 5/30/18



May 30, 2018


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state & local news stories


“We are the School Board, and we pay our superintendent what we think is a reasonable salary. It’s none of their business what we pay the superintendent.”

As Portsmouth city leaders weighed whether to give public schools a $2.3 million budget boost, the vice mayor wanted to know how the Portsmouth superintendent’s salary compared to those of his peers. City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton looked into it and reported back that Superintendent Elie Bracy, despite leading a district far smaller than its neighbors, makes the most of any schools chief in Hampton Roads. But she was wrong. Despite being corrected at least three times by council members, Pettis Patton has continued giving the city’s elected leaders the same set of misleading numbers. She presented them again last week. A review of area superintendents’ contracts shows Bracy’s salary is somewhere in the middle. School Board Chairman Claude Parent said he’s frustrated by the apples-to-oranges comparison presented to city council but that at the end of the day, it’s not up to council to decide what is an appropriate salary. “We are the School Board, and we pay our superintendent what we think is a reasonable salary,” he said. “It’s none of their business what we pay the superintendent.”
The Virginian-Pilot

The print edition of the University of Mary Washington’s student-run newspaper is not dead after all. A student-run Finance Committee recently reversed its controversial decision last month to eliminate print funding for The Blue & Gray Press, which was first established on the Fredericksburg campus as The Bullet in the early 1920s. The newspaper had requested $13,666 to print the weekly publication for the 2018–19 school year, but the Finance Committee initially agreed to allot just $100 for office supplies. UMW faced the threat of a lawsuit from the Student Press Law Center, which says it is unconstitutional for universities to withhold money from student newspapers or “take any other action that is motivated by an attempt to control, manipulate or punish past or future content.” SPLC Senior Legal Consultant Mike Hiestand said the editor of the Blue & Gray Press shared correspondence with him showing that “part of the reason for cutting off the funding is content-related.”
The Free Lance-Star

After announcing last week that it will not renew the city manager’s employment contract (which ends in December), the Charlottesville City Council on Tuesday decided to delay hiring for an assistant city manager position that was added in the current-year city budget. The decision about the third assistant manager position was made during a daylong retreat in which the council went over its meeting and operating procedures and community engagement strategies.  In addition to adding one slot for speakers during the “community matters” forum at the start of each regular council meeting — which now starts 30 minutes earlier than before, at 6:30 p.m. — the procedures were relaxed to allow for more back-and-forth discussion between councilors and community members. Councilor Wes Bellamy said he thinks the procedures are working well, but interim City Attorney Lisa Robertson reminded the council that the current procedures prohibit people from speaking from the audience. Councilor Heather Hill also shared concern about public speakers disparaging city officials and staff.
The Daily Progress


stories of national interest

The Supreme Court is an openly — even proudly — technophobic institution. Cameras are forbidden, which means there are no images or videos from high-profile cases, and briefs and other legal filings only recently became available at the court’s website. Chief Justice John Roberts argued in 2014 that these Luddite tendencies are just part of the legal system: “The courts will always be prudent whenever it comes to embracing the ‘next big thing.’” The justices — who communicate mostly on paper, rather than via email — can sometimes seem as analog as the institution they serve. There was the moment when in a 2014 case about cell phone privacy, Justice Samuel Alito asked what would happen if a suspect were carrying personal information on a “compact disc.” That same year, Justice Stephen Breyer was ribbed for spinning out an extended hypothetical about a “phonograph record store.” There are systemic reasons for the court’s reluctant approach to technology — American law is a backward-looking enterprise even outside the highest court. But regardless of why it’s happening, legal scholars say the consequences are clear: When Supreme Court justices lack an understanding of what technology means for the lives of the people affected by their decisions, they will struggle to respond effectively to technological change.

The State Department has quietly ended the controversial “FOIA surge” launched last October under the since-fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Capitol Hill and State Department sources tell TPM. The effort involved pulling hundreds of people from offices across the agency — including former ambassadors, former high-level leaders of bureaus and former National Security Council staff — and reassigning them largely clerical work processing Freedom of Information Act requests. An internal memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Administration dated Oct. 12 — obtained by TPM from a Capitol Hill source — described the surge as a “tax” on all bureaus within the agency. Though the State Department has insisted that the transfers were made “without regard to politics,” whistleblowers within the agency and members of Congress have aired suspicions that the transfers were politically-motivated and possibly retaliatory, pointing to the reassignment of senior officials who previously worked on refugee resettlement, the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, and other initiatives viewed unfavorably by the Trump administration. Some of the officials were transferred to the FOIA office after the right-wing news outlet Breitbart urged Trump to get rid of them, calling them “holdover Obama loyalist bureaucrats.”

Lawmakers are eyeing changes to public records law after a national group dedicated to government transparency flooded 800 Wyoming agencies with records requests last, a project of Illinois-based 501(c)(3) organization American Transparency, filed the requests to collect Wyoming data for an online repository of spending by state, local and federal governments. Its requests went to more than 800 agencies, districts, boards and other municipal and state government entities, Wyoming Liberty Group executive director Jonathan Downing said. His organization, a conservative think tank in Cheyenne, assisted with the requests. The inquiry has sparked a review of public records law by the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee, even as the state implements new rules to charge its citizenry for accessing public records. Broad records requests gum up day-to-day operations for some government offices in the Equality State, particularly rural ones with only one full-time staff member, public officials told legislators on the Corporations Committee in Lander last week.