Transparency News 5/8/13


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

State and Local Stories

Times-Dispatch: A Richmond School Board member who claims to have an advanced degree she didn’t earn is alone among her peers in misrepresenting her credentials, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch review of degree information for the city’s nine School Board members. Everyone else checked out.

Virginian-Pilot: A Louisa County man will be arraigned today on charges of swindling an imprisoned former state legislator's family in a bogus pardon scheme. Joseph Yancey is charged with six counts of obtaining money by false pretenses. A hearing is set for today in York County General District Court. Yancey is accused of scamming the family of former Del. Phillip A. Hamilton of Newport News. Hamilton was convicted of bribery and extortion after soliciting a job at Old Dominion University that he helped create with taxpayer money. He's serving a 9 1/2-year prison sentence. Yancey allegedly tricked Hamilton's ex-wife into believing he was working to obtain a presidential pardon for the former lawmaker. The woman says she paid Yancey more than $20,000 that she thought was going for legal fees.

Daily Progress: A massive late-night raid of a $1.3-million Rugby Road home culminated Tuesday evening with the arrest of a third suspect in a fraud operation that authorities said sent thousands of fake IDs to addresses at or near college campuses across the country. Authorities charged Alan McNeil Jones, 31; Kelly Erin McPhee, 31; and Mark G. Bernardo, all of Charlottesville, with mail fraud, wire fraud, and fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents. The three were being held at an undisclosed location Tuesday.

National Law Journal: A lawyer for Facebook Inc. will have the opportunity next week to address a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., in a dispute that touches on the scope of First Amendment rights when it comes to online activity.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Monday said Facebook, represented by Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, would have three minutes of oral argument time when a three-judge panel hears the closely watched dispute.  Facebook in August filed a brief in support of a deputy sheriff, Daniel Carter Jr., who claims he was fired after showing support for an opponent's bid to become the elected sheriff of Hampton, Va. That support included "liking" the challenger's Facebook page.  

Times-Dispatch: Some days, working at home can be a drag. And while you would love to take your laptop down to the coffee shop, paying for a triple-shot, extra-large cappuccino every two hours is going to put a hole in your wallet. Enter The site, built by four Richmond-area residents, mixes the ambient noise of a coffee shop — conversation, clinking glasses and such — with a user’s music to create just the right amount of background noise. The site wasnamed Monday as one of Time magazine’s 50 best websites of 2013.


National Stories

A disclaimer published at the bottom of meeting agendas and model bills from the American Legislative Exchange Council’s most recent meeting in Oklahoma City, obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, reads: "Because this is an internal ALEC document, ALEC believes it is not subject to disclosure under any state Freedom of Information or Public Records Act." "If you receive a request for disclosure of this or any other ALEC document under your state's Freedom of Information or Public Records Act, please contact Michael Bowman, Senior Director, Policy and Strategic Initiatives," it says.  For a private organization to assert that its interactions with state legislators are not subject to public records laws is "shocking," says Mark Caramanica, Freedom of Information Director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
PR Watch

Onondaga County, N.Y., will alert the media whenever a request is made for the names and addresses of pistol permit holders, the county legislature decided today. By a unanimous vote, legislators approved a local law proposed by Legislator John Dougherty, R- Liverpool, that requires the county to issue a news release to the media when anyone files a Freedom of Information Law request seeking the names and addresses of those with pistol permits. The news release would not name the person or company requesting the information.
Syracuse Post-Standard

Springfield, Ill., Mayor Mike Houston is weighing in on recent controversy caused when the police chief ordered documents shredded after only four years. The city's labor contract states officers' internal affairs documents will be kept for five years, but Chief Robert Williams recently signed a memorandum changing the time frame to four years. Calvin Christian, who filed a FOIA request for the documents, is suing the city. The mayor said he thinks the controversy has roots with other officers.
FOX Illinois

A Minnesota trial judge Friday denied a media effort to unseal investigative materials in the case of a former college football coach who was accused of possessing child pornography. Blue Earth County District Court Judge Krista Jass held that both Minnesota public records law and the First Amendment prevent public access to the files.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A case before the Minnesota Supreme Court has broad implications on whether documents held by a private company should be made public if the work the firm is doing is funded by taxpayers. Johnson Controls, Inc., of Milwaukee, is managing a $79 million construction project for St. Louis County schools. Johnson Controls hired a subcontractor, Architectural Resources Inc., of Hibbing. The companies have refused to release their business contract to Timberjay Newspaper, which sued to get access to the document under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Timberjay editor Marshall Helmberger said examining the contract could help the district determine whether it could recover any of cost overruns.
Brainerd Dispatch

The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. The FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III, has argued that the bureau’s ability to carry out court-approved eavesdropping on suspects is “going dark” as communications technology evolves, and since 2010 has pushed for a legal mandate requiring companies like Facebook and Google to build into their instant-messaging and other such systems a capacity to comply with wiretap orders.
New York Times

The fight in California to liberate people’s personal information from the companies that track them online has been put on hold for the rest of the year. Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal recently announced her decision to stall her Right to Know Act of 2013, delaying action until sometime next year. In a press release, Lowenthal says that the bill, which would let Californians ask businesses what it knows about them and who it’s sharing that information with, has broad support, “but in the legislature, it has become clear that we still have our work cut out for us.”
The Verge

Lobbyists in Georgia cannot spend more than $75 at a time while seeking to influence Georgia officials under legislation signed into law Monday that still leaves some loopholes and unresolved questions. The legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, takes effect Jan. 1 and sets the first state limits on how much money lobbyists can spend. Right now, lobbyists can spend as much as they want so long as they publicly disclose their expenditures. “Our success as leaders of this state depends heavily on the public’s ability to trust us,” Deal said during a bill signing ceremony at the Statehouse. “And we cannot expect them to honor our laws or to elect us to do further good for this state unless we have put in place those measures whereby with certainty they know that we have their best interests in mind.”
Athens Banner-Herald

A research team led by Mark Pagel at the University of Reading in England has identified 23 “ultraconserved words” that have remained largely unchanged for 15,000 years. Words that sound and mean the same thing in different languages are called “cognates”. These are five words that have cognates in at least four of the seven Eurasiatic language families. Those languages, about 700 in all, are spoken in an area extending from the British Isles to western China and from the Arctic to southern India. Only one word, “thou” (the singular form of “you”), has a cognate in all seven families.
Washington Post



Roanoke Times: Constituents lacking in juris doctor degrees have no trouble understanding the conflict of interest their leaders allowed to fester. Indeed, most Virginians belong to professions or work for companies with explicit policies banning such graft. Why is it only politicians feel they are exempt from rules of proper conduct? The answer is twofold. First, politicians wrote the commonwealth’s threadbare ethics laws to be as inconsequential as possible. Second, they have resisted calls for an independent watchdog with the power to enforce the rules.

Daily Progress: The embarrassment of these revelations already has many top state officials, including those involved, agreeing that reform of ethics rules is needed. Given the unfolding and deepening problems now facing Virginia, ethics reform should be a high priority for the next General Assembly.

Carl Tate, News Virginian: I, for one, am disgusted by this whole fiasco involving our governor and attorney general. It's unseemly and undignified and I am absolutely appalled at the fact that our Governor's Mansion was basically rented out to a crook to tout his wares. You might as well hang a For Sale sign on the grounds of the State Capitol. The worst thing about this whole sordid affair is that both officials would appear to be better than this. Or at least I thought they were. I’m left wondering what would ever possess these two intelligent and ambitious men to accept these types of gifts. But then it hit me. Greed. Simple, awful greed.

News & Advance: If a town’s police department were searching for ways to increase efficiency and streamline leadership within the department, wouldn’t you think the discussions would include the police chief? He is, after all, head of the department. You would — but not in Altavista. The town’s police committee seems to be running the department without the benefit of comments or input from Chief Clay Hamilton, who has been the chief for about three and a half years. So the chief has announced his retirement effective July 1, “unless I am forced to leave prior to that date due to my honesty,” he wrote in a statement released last month. “The police department and I have always strived to be transparent and inform the public of all the good and bad news concerning the Altavista P.D,” he continued, adding, “However, it becomes frustrating when the police department has strived for excellence and has been very successful in curtailing crime while maintaining customer satisfaction and there are a few with personal agendas that want to change our internal philosophy behind closed doors.”

Los Angeles Times: Requiring publicly traded companies to be open about their political spending is well within the agency's core mission of protecting shareholders' interests.