Transparency News 5/8/14

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Virginia Coalition for Open Government
View this email in your browser   Friday, April 11, 2014

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State and Local Stories
NOTE: VCOG’s records management & FOIA workshop scheduled for June 4 has moved from its original location at the Free Lance-Star to the campus of Mary Washington University, which is also in Fredericksburg. We’ll be in COMBS HALL, Room 139. Same date, time and program, just different location. Many thanks to the Free Lance-Star and the City of Fredericksburg for helping me find an alternate location, and to University Relations at UMW for hosting us.

The task force charged with sorting through two proposals for a new Virginia Beach arena and making a recommendation to City Council is doing their work in secret. The City of Virginia Beach has received two proposals to build a new arena that could host major sporting events, concerts and other large gatherings. Both proposals would require millions in public money—either in the form of subsidies or tax breaks—from the city.

The Smithfield Town Council’s April committee meetings looked a little different after town officials made a few changes to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The town attorney said they were not doing anything illegal, but on April 28 and 29, town council members who were not part of the committee meetings were seated apart from the committee and advised not to participate.
Smithfield Times

new and more high-tech Virginia travel guide is now available. The Virginia Tourism Corporation says that for the first time, the guide is available for download through three leading app stores -- Apple iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. It also can be found on the corporation's website. The corporation says the digital edition includes features like animation, sound, more than 1,000 hotlinks to external resources, and 17 videos about Virginia. Travelers who still like to do their vacation planning the old-fashioned way can order a print copy of the guide. The print and online copies can both be found at
Loudoun Times-Mirror         National Stories

For every 10,000 District of Columbia residents, there are about 61 Metropolitan Police Department officers. A similar number of officers serve nearby Baltimore given the city’s size. But in many other larger jurisdictions, police departments employ fewer than half as many officers per capita. Police presence varies greatly across U.S. cities, driven by call volumes, municipal budgets and a range of other factors. A review of the latest police employment data reported to the FBI in 2012 shows police agencies serving jurisdictions with populations exceeding 50,000 employed an average of 17 officers per 10,000 residents. Totals for each city are listed in the table below. (Includes numbers for several Virginia cities.)

An investigation into possible campaign finance violations involving conservative groups in Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign committee has become entangled in back-to-back federal court rulings on whether it should continue.On Tuesday, a federal judge halted the investigation, giving a momentary victory to Mr. Walker, a Republican who is seeking re-election this fall and is sometimes mentioned as a presidential possibility for 2016. The investigation, the details of which are murky because of tight state secrecy rules, had clouded Mr. Walker’s political prospects and become a focus of attention for his critics. But on Wednesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit stayed the injunction, calling for a lower court review of an earlier, separate appeal in the case.
New York Times

A New Hampshire man has the right to drive around the New England state with a license plate reading "COPSLIE," the state's top court ruled on Wednesday. The state Supreme Court upheld a challenge to Department of Motor Vehicles' rules, finding they were unconstitutionally broad by allowing officials to deny requests for vanity license plates that "a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste." The man, who in 2012 legally changed his name to "human" from David Montenegro, requested the plate in 2010 and sued the state when it denied his request, instead offering a plate with his second choice, "GR8GOVT."

Diane Sullivan says that when she pulls out her food-stamp card to buy groceries, she keeps the side with her photo cupped in her hand so people can’t see. While Massachusetts requires her to have the identification to prevent fraud, the 40-year-old mother of five from Medford calls it “a card of shame.” Maine and Georgia joined Massachusetts and New York last month in putting photos on welfare cards to stop misuse of taxpayer money, and similar proposals have been offered in a dozen other U.S. states. Opponents question whether it saves more than it costs. They also say it dissuades residents from getting benefits, much as critics of requiring identification to vote argue it keeps some from casting ballots.
Bloomberg Editorials/Columns

Throughout the recently completed campaign season, the candidates seeking elected office spoke often about the need for the public to be more engaged in local government. Most recognized the need to build bonds of trust between citizens and officials, understanding confidence is necessary to making progress on pressing community problems. In the aftermath of Tuesday's election, the individuals selected to serve must now dedicate themselves to improving public participation in municipal government. We urge them to do so by embracing transparency, seeking every available avenue to draw citizen input and always adhering to the highest ethical standards throughout their time in office.
Daily Press

Rarely a day goes by without an article about the government capturing our data. That information transfer works in only one direction, as Tuesday night's local election results showed. Most of the localities holding elections no longer report results on their websites. Instead, they push the information to the State Board of Elections website. That would be fine if that website were updated correctly and fully. It's not.
Vivian Paige, Virginian-Pilot

The use of drones is revealing one injustice after another. At the heart of a current debate is a case involving the University of Virginia. Now that case has escalated into a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment makes clear that the press has a unique role in protecting and promoting democracy: News agencies provide information the public needs to know about their government and stands as a watchdog against government excess and corruption. Because of this vital function — recognized by the Founders and enshrined in the Bill of Rights — media organizations are constitutionally guaranteed the latitude necessary to pursue their calling.
Daily Progress