Transparency News 5/5/14

Monday, May 5, 2014

State and Local Stories

The claims read like an insurance commercial. Potholes blowing out tires. Trash trucks backing over mailboxes. Smelly sewage flooding from toilets. They're just a sample of the dozens of complaints filed with the city each year seeking repayment for damages. Some are sobering, others slightly silly. Either way, they add up, with 205 auto and general liability claims resulting in roughly $1.2 million in settlements during the last fiscal year, according to the city's most recent Annual Risk Management Financial Report. A year's worth of petitions obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows fender-benders and everyday mishaps as well as more serious incidents that sometimes result in lawsuits. "It's a wild gamut," City Attorney Mark Stiles said. "A lot of them were interesting to read."

Newport News Councilwoman Sharon Scott received a large donation from a family with vast land interests in the Oyster Point area as the City Council contemplated revoking a rare nightclub permit from one of the family's properties. On Feb. 28, a company called The Kingstowne Shops, LLC gave $5,000 to Scott's re-election campaign, an amount that's tied for the largest she has received in the current election cycle. The donation came about five months after the council voted 5-2 to grant the company the ability to bring in a new nightclub, Pur Lux Lounge, to a heavily trafficked stretch of Jefferson Avenue. The vote was a rarity in that a majority of council members ignored advice from the city manager's office and police officials who were uncomfortable with the club's operator.
Daily Press

National Stories

A state appeals court has ruled that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, the body that regulates high school sports, is subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed after the TSSAA refused to turn over records to the now-defunct Nashville City Paper. The paper was seeking records related to the investigation of recruiting violations at the elite Nashville private school Montgomery Bell Academy. "This affects every newspaper in the state and it affects every parent who has a kid playing high school athletics," Nashville Scene and Nashville Post editor Steve Cavendish said. He said the organization governs every aspect of a student's ability to play sports and there are all sorts of implications of being able to see its records, including issues related to safety and concussion regulations.
Herald Courier

The law allowing residents and business to request public records may be dubbed the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but as municipalities are seeing more and more requests come in each year,officials say the cost to comply with the law is anything but free. A Daily Herald survey of 55 municipalities showed that the number of Freedom of Information Act requests received has increased in nearly all towns over the past few years that officials have been tracking the numbers. Between 2011 and 2013, 17 suburbs saw an increase of more than 25 percent. Towns including Aurora, Hampshire, Des Plaines and Prospect Heights saw the number of requests increase by more than 50 percent.
Chicago Daily Herald

More than a year ago, Tennessee Health Department officials sealed off from public view dozens of inspection reports for pharmacies and assisted living facilities. They never explained why. But nowlegislation awaiting the governor’s signature could make the records public once again. The reports, which determine whether a licensed facility is in compliance with minimum state requirements for health and safety, are produced after mandated annual visits by state inspectors. State health officials say they have now decided those reports should be made public in the interests of transparency. A bill to ensure their release has passed both branches of the legislature and awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s approval.
The Tennesseean

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and four media organizations on Thursday asked a Wisconsin federal court to unseal records in a civil suit that alleges that the state misused an investigatory tool to retaliate against perceived political adversaries. The underlying case alleges that the so-called John Doe proceeding was used by state prosecutors to chill conservative speech and to drum up Democratic opposition to Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker. One of the conservative targets has challenged the state’s investigation in federal court. The media coalition argues that the federal case must be open.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

In a nod to user privacy, Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc.  said they will begin notifying users whose information has been requested by the government. The move pits the companies against federal law-enforcement officials, who said the disclosures could harm investigations, and adds to the growing divide between Silicon Valley and Washington.
Wall Street Journal

On Friday, Josh Rogin wrote for The Daily Beast about how he got those remarks from Secretary of State John Kerry (he said Israel could become “an apartheid state,”) at a private meeting. Rogin wasn’t invited to that meeting, but no one stopped him either, he wrote, and he didn’t hide what he was doing. “If I had to do it all over again, I would do it in the exact same way. Event organizers and public officials should be forewarned. The public disclosure of this episode may make it harder for me to enter rooms the powerful people don’t want me in, maybe not, we’ll see. If it does, no worries, I’ve got plenty of other ways to get important and true information about our government to my readers. I don’t have to break the rules to break news. I will admit to one ethical indiscretion in the reporting of these stories. While I was waiting for Kerry to get to the meeting, I partook of the lunch buffet and made myself a plate of pork loin, chicken, and a very nice rice pilaf. Professor Nye, my apologies. Please send me a bill.”


Part of the argument the attorneys general made is that what McDonnell did is no different from the mountain of campaign cash given political candidates, presumably in the interest of courting favor at some future date. The AGs contend that, because nothing good came to Mr. Williams as a result of his largesse, the federal government doesn’t have a legitimate case. What transpired between the McDonnells and Mr. Williams has tainted the commonwealth’s reputation for probity among our elected officials. There is every reason to believe Gov. McDonnell knew he was doing something that would not look right in full sunlight. The McDonnells have requested a jury trial. It’s set to begin July 28 and last five or six weeks. At the end of it, they should walk away exonerated if chastened.
Free Lance-Star