Transparency News 5/7/14

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

State and Local Stories

The first meeting of Meetings Subcommittee of FOIA Council's FOIA Reform study is Wednesday, May 14, 1 p.m. on the 6th Floor of the General Assembly Building. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

The Supreme Court's determination that many limits on big-money political contributions violate constitutional free-speech rights have undermined the federal government's case against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, his lawyers argued in court filings Monday. McDonnell's lawyers said last month's McCutcheon v. FEC decision, which voided the overall federal limit on individuals' campaign contributions, and the landmark 2010 Citizens United that lifted restrictions on independent political spending show the high court's definition of political corruption is significantly narrower than how federal prosecutors define it. "The government's broad construction would directly infringe core First Amendment freedoms," the lawyers wrote.

A recall petition case that aims to remove Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio from office will continue with a pre-trial hearing in Loudoun Circuit Court in June, after the supervisor and one of his former employees are deposed by attorneys in the coming weeks. At a status conference Tuesday, Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and Charles King, Delgaudio’s attorney, told retired Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan that the court could tentatively set a trial date at the June hearing. Sheridan said he would expect the attorneys to offer witness lists, evidence exhibits and an estimation of how long a trial might last.
Washington Post

More than a dozen media organizations challenged the government’s ban on the use of drones by journalists Tuesday, saying the Federal Aviation Administration’s position violates First Amendment protections for news gathering. The organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a brief with the National Transportation Safety Board in support of aerial photographer Raphael Pirker. Pirker was fined $10,000 by the FAA for flying a small drone near the University of Virginia to make a commercial video in October 2011. He appealed the fine to the safety board, which hears challenges to FAA decisions. An administrative law judge ruled in March that the FAA can’t enforce its policy against all commercial use of drones when the agency hasn’t issued regulations for those uses. The FAA has appealed the judge’s decision to the full five-member safety board. Agency officials have said they hope to issue regulations for the use of small drones later this year.
Daily Progress

The Supreme Court's ruling on prayer before government meetings could mean a return to traditional practice for area elected leaders. The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors and most town councils in the region open meetings with a prayer or invocation. Until a couple of years ago, the board's prayers occasionally mentioned Jesus or included other Christian references. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that the content of prayers is not significant as long as the elected body make an effort at inclusion. Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson says the board may not change its approach to invocations. "I don't think we're going to do anything different than what we've been doing," Ferguson said. "I guess I will wait and see what the future holds but, as of now, I'm sure that our attorney will be more flexible as he gives guidance to us for those who indeed do offer up the prayer."
Northern Virginia Daily

Appomattox County’s website is getting a makeover. The supervisors unanimously approved hiring a new company to revamp the website to make it more compatible with new technology, such as iPads and smartphones, which were just emerging when the current website launched more than four years ago.
News & Advance

Last Tuesday, the Haymarket Town Council voted for a censure for the fourth time since October,this time targeting Mayor David Leake for disclosing information to the media about an investigation into Police Chief Jim Roop. Vice mayor Jay Tobias and council members Rebecca Bare, Katherine Harnest, Mary Lou Scarbrough and Milt Kenworthy all voted in the 5-1 majority with only Council Member Steven Aitken opposed. That same 5-1 majority also voted for a separate resolution expressing "non-support for the mayor's remarks to the press," saying the matters "should have remained confidential."
Prince William Times

National Stories

New York’s highest court decided the public is entitled to the names of retired public workers in public pension systems in a case that tested the power of the Freedom of Information Law. The Court of Appeals on Tuesday decided it was not an invasion of privacy to identify retirees in the state’s various pension systems for public workers. The court, however, said the addresses of the individuals shouldn’t be made public.

Adopting a tactic that has been used by officials ranging from Sarah Palin to staffers of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are sending emails from private accounts to conduct official business. I know because I got one myself. And three other people who interact with the governor's office on policy or media matters told me they have too. None of the others wanted to be named. The tactic appears to be another item in the toolbox of an administration that, despite Cuomo's early vows of unprecedented transparency, has become known for an obsession with secrecy. Emailing from private accounts can help officials hide communications and discussions that are supposed to be available to the public.

The National Security Agency will be sending out tweets about career opportunities this month. Just make sure your code-breaking skills are up to par or that you have access to the Internet. On Monday, the NSA tweeted from @NSACareers, "tpfccdlfdtte pcaccplircdt dklpcfrp?qeiq lhpqlipqeodf gpwafopwprti izxndkiqpkii krirrifcapnc dxkdciqcafmd vkfpcadf. #MissionMonday #NSA #news" Using code-breaking website, the Daily Dot reported the tweet was code for: "Want to know what it takes to work at NSA? Check back each Monday in May as we explore careers essential to protecting our nation."
USA Today

Email exchanges between National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying. Al Jazeera has obtained two sets of email communications dating from a year before former NSA contractor Edward Snowden became a household name that suggest not all cooperation was under pressure.
Al Jazeera

A Washington state appellate court reversed the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion, holding that “speech connected to a political campaign and candidate . . . clearly are matters of public concern.” The court also held that the statute’s stay on discovery is not unconstitutional. When Bradley Toft ran for the Washington State Senate in 2012, Kelly Spratt, a former employee of Toft’s and a fellow Republican, vocally opposed his candidacy. She claimed Toft had an abusive management style that the entire company had problems with. Toft responded by saying Spratt had been fired and was a disgruntled former employee, while Spratt maintains she resigned voluntarily. Spratt claims Toft wrote an anonymous letter accusing Spratt of harassing Toft.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Prince George’s County, Maryland, police say they decided against live-tweeting a prostitution sting because of security concerns - but they believe their plans to do so have served as a deterrent to prostitution in the county.
Washington Times

Jaclyn Lardie did what many do when looking for a job: she Googled her name to see what a prospective employer would find. The search results devastated her. At the top of the page was an old photo from a night she'd rather forget -- a college-era mugshot from an underage drinking bust. Lardie was never convicted and had put the incident behind her. But commercial mugshot websites pounced on her photo and published it online, demanding a fee to remove it. "I personally believe it's a legalized form of blackmail," said Lardie, whose photo now resides on under her maiden name. The website charges $399 for removal. At least seven states agree with her, recently passing laws to restrict websites from profiting off mugshots: Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Utah, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming. Marc Epstein, a lawyer for, told Fox News that such laws are unconstitutional and violate his client's First Amendment rights.
Fox News

It seems as if those who man the Twitter account at Seattle's Department of Transportation might not be quite as funny as they think. They might not be quite men yet, for that matter. On Monday, they saw a picture of the West Seattle Bridge and took the unilateral decision that traffic was being caused by rubberneckers. As Seattle Weekly News reports, they decided to express themselves about this alleged rubbernecking. They placed Scumbag Steve hats on the image of the cars. Should you be unfamiliar with Scumbag Steve or his hat, this is a meme that uses the image of a youth wearing a sideways hat, with accompanying text to suggest just what specific scumbaggery he has perpetrated.


Thank goodness (but not God) for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. If it weren’t for her, Monday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding prayer before town council meetings in the upstate New York town of Greece would have been a straight-religion vote, with the court’s Catholics voting to uphold and its Jews voting to strike down. By joining the court’s three Jewish justices, who are also, coincidentally or not, three of its liberals, Sotomayor saved the court from the embarrassment of revealing a church-state split along religious lines. The case is going to be a landmark. It’s been three decades since, in Marsh v. Chambers, the court last decided to allow legislative prayer, that time in the Nebraska statehouse.
Noah Feldman, Times-Dispatch

Censorship in the name of sensitivity has resulted recently in a lot of feel-good gibberish at the opening of public meetings. A polite nod to the country’s religiosity, devoid of any meaning. Still, it’s worth remembering that there’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s polite. It is rude – some would say downright un-Christian – to use an opening prayer to make others squirm in discomfort. Members of the clergy ought to know better. So should laymen. So here’s a thought: Instead of dabbling in censorship with silly prayer guidelines, government officials should present those about to give an invocation a book on etiquette. And pray that they read it.
Kerry Dougherty, Virginian-Pilot

THE UNITED STATES Supreme Court has said, in its ruling Monday on prayer at public meetings, that sectarian prayers aren’t likely to make members of other faiths feel unwelcome. In an ideal world, there might not be anything wrong with that stance. In an ideal world, city councils and county boards would make every effort to bring in religious leaders of all faiths, so that no one felt like an outsider because he or she didn’t worship in the same fashion as the minister. (Even then, agnostics and atheists would get a rather unwelcoming message.) We don’t live in an ideal world, though. We live in a world where many political leaders believe deeply that their religion is the only true one, and the people allowed to offer prayers before public meetings will reflect that.
Free Lance-Star

The U.S. Supreme Court for decades has tried to balance freedom of speech with freedom of religion. For example, the court ruled 20 years ago that religious speech deserves equal footing as other speech when it struck down a University of Virginia policy barring publication funding for student groups of faith. Now a divided court has found that a New York community didn’t violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by inviting speakers to give sectarian invocations at town council meetings. This ruling could make balance even tougher to find.
Daily Progress

Imagine your UPS driver knocked on your door and said he had an important package someone had paid to have delivered to you today.  He tells you for $5, he will give you the package. But if you don’t pay, he’ll hold it on the truck for a few days before delivering it.  You would be outraged.  Yet, that is what Internet service companies want to do, and now the FCC is proposing rules to let them. The proposed rules prevent Internet Service Providers from refusing to deliver any content, but allow them to charge “commercially reasonable” fees for priority delivery of content.
Mark Stout, Inside NOVA

We believe that all chambers in South Carolina as well as arts groups, non-profits and other organizations that routinely receive accommodations tax dollars are public bodies subject to the FOIA. The law seems clear to us, defining public bodies as governmental entities or any organization supported in whole or in part by public funds. Receiving public dollars comes with a requirement of transparency. Groups that do not want to adhere to that policy should forego public money.
Hilton Head Island Packet