Transparency News 5/9/13


Thursday, May 9, 2013

State and Local Stories

Times-Dispatch: Two weeks after the Henrico County School Board awarded a major technology contract without warning, officials will set out to clear the confusion that has been a black eye for a county that prides itself on having a well-functioning local government. It’s unclear whether the $17.6 million laptop contract awarded to Dell Inc. last month is in jeopardy, but school officials are preparing to go through the motions they say would have occurred if it hadn’t been for a procedural stumble at the end of the board’s last meeting. “This should have been the presentation we had and then the vote,”said board member Lisa A. Marshall. “A mistake was made. And that’s not how we have ever conducted our business.”

News Leader: There were a lot of unhappy people in Augusta County in 1803 after the United States acquired 828,000 square miles of land from France in the Louisiana Purchase. In fact, lots of individuals concerned about the value of their land in the face of such cheap land offerings, filed complaints at the Augusta County Circuit Courthouse. Those documents still exist. And now anyone with a computer canview almost 900,000 pages of documents detailing the interesting history of Augusta County.

Fairfax Times: Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale, 64, had a medical emergency late Tuesday, resulting in him being transported to a local hospital. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, school officials were not releasing any information about what type of medical emergency Dale had.


National Stories

There’s so much data available on the internet that even government cyberspies need a little help now and then to sift through it all. So to assist them, the National Security Agency produced a book to help its spies uncover intelligence hiding on the web. The 643-page tome, called Untangling the Web: A Guide to Internet Research, was just released by the NSA following a FOIA request filed in April by MuckRock, a site that charges fees to process public records for activists and others.

Something was missing at a public hearing held by the State Senate on Tuesday to examine New York City’s campaign finance system: the public. Even before the hearing began, government watchdog groups complained that Republicans who led the panel would not allow them to testify. The Senate’s sergeants-at-arms went a step further: they would not allow members of the public into the hearing room, first saying that they needed to save space for legislative staff, then saying that the room had reached capacity. (At the same time, people in the room were posting images on Twitter of empty chairs.) Some reporters were also stopped from entering the hearing room; they were later allowed to enter.
New York Times

Otterbein University (in Westerville, Ohio) has been violating federal law by requiring students to keep alleged sexual assaults secret. Student Affairs staff has been requiring parties of sexual assault cases, including alleged victims, to sign a form preventing them from discussing the incident. It included the following: “Privacy must be maintained and the matter should not be discussed.” An investigation into the practice by the Tan & Cardinal showed that nondisclosure agreements in alleged campus sexual assault cases violate federal law.
Otterbein 360

Hawaii leaders say one of the highlights of the 2013 legislative session was greater transparency in the lawmaking process. But advocacy groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, along with more critical legislators, say a lot more needs to be done to make Hawaii's legislative process clearer and more accessible to the public. The Legislature passed eight of 18 bills specifically criticized by watchdog groups after being passed with unrelated amendments or with largely new language compared with how the measures were introduced. Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and other organizations say the public wasn't given enough time to testify on the measures because of the way lawmakers changed the bills.
The Republic

If the movies, books or documentaries aren’t enough for you, there’s now a video game based on the Watergate story. The point and click adventure, which can be played online and is modeled after the 1987 Apple Macintosh game Shadowgate, is the creation of Samuel Kim and puts you in the shoes of Bob Woodward as it tries to crack the nut of the case. It’s not, of course, that simple. As Motherboard describes it, “It starts out as a pretty straightforward retelling of ‘All the President’s Men,’ but quickly gets trippy. Pretty soon, you’re digging up the skeleton of Checkers Nixon and confronting H.R. Haldeman with a mystical broadsword offered to you by Ben Bradlee.”

Reports detailing the NYPD’s infiltration and surveillance of the Muslim community are not subject to public scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Law, a Manhattan judge ruled Wednesday. Supreme Court Justice Alexander Hunter said the NYPD acted reasonably when it rejected a FOIL request on those activities by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Muslim Advocates.
New York Daily News



Virginian-Pilot: Good news from an audit of a Norfolk city credit card program: No further evidence of waste and abuse. Better news from the audit: It helped the city institute stronger accountability measures to ensure abuse doesn't happen again.

Mark Warner, Times-Dispatch: As Virginia’s governor and now senator, I have tried to bring a private-sector approach to government, and the one thing I learned as a businessman is this: What gets measured gets done. Without understanding the costs, risks and potential rewards of an investment, it is virtually impossible to make a truly informed decision. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense that our kids and their parents do not have the information they need to make one of the most important decisions of their lives: what kind of college degree to pursue, and where to pursue it. Today, I am joining Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in introducing The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act. Our legislation will consolidate a wide variety of meaningful metrics and other information that’s already collected by states and reported by colleges, bringing all of the information together into a single database that will be made available to students and their families.

Al Kamen, Washington Post: The day after he was inaugurated in 2009, President Obama issued a “Transparency and Open Government” memo to all agencies and promised an “unprecedented level of openness in government.” Two months later, Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the enforcement agency for Freedom of Information Act matters, issued a memo saying that FOIA requests should be handled “with a presumption of disclosure.” It’s not clear — could be Obama was just kidding, or maybe Holder really meant to say “presumption of non-disclosure” — but it would seem government secrecy is alive and well right here in River City.