Transparency News 6/10/14

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

State and Local Stories The proposed new arena being pursued by the city of Virginia Beach will come with a hefty price tag for taxpayers, despite the fact that the arena itself will be built with private funds. In May, council members decided to pursue a proposal from United States Management that would build an 18,000-seat arena adjacent to the city's convention center on 19th Street. The USM proposal calls for private investors to foot the bill to build the arena, which is expected to cost roughly $200 million. In exchange, the proposal calls for the city to give USM one percent of its hotel tax and any taxes generated from the operation of the arena itself. In addition, the proposal calls for the city to complete a list of projects to improve the infrastructure around the proposed arena site. Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show those improvements will cost tens-of-millions of dollars.

The city of Richmond has denied a Freedom of Information Act request from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that sought records at the heart of Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall’s decision to award nearly $400,000 in extra compensation to a departing employee. Marshall has said he made changes to the compensation of former finance official Sharon Judkins based on bad advice he received from the city’s human resources department, which was overseen by Judkins. The Times-Dispatch’s FOIA request sought records of communications, including emails, between Marshall and the human resources department that may have shed light on any advice Marshall was given after March 1 regarding Judkins’ compensation.

Virginia Tech students will be able to vote on campus this fall after Montgomery County supervisors acted Monday to re-draw the county’s election maps. The move comes after months of discussions about how to prevent the hours-long lines and confusion that occurred during the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections as heavy student voter turnout collided with the long-standing Montgomery County practice of having on-campus residents travel to polling places located well away from campus. The old voting map even split one dormitory between precincts, with residents on one side of a hallway voting in one place and those on the other side elsewhere. The new setup allows students to walk to voting places, county GIS manager Bob Pearsall said.
Roanoke Times      


National Stories

A Delaware lawyer on a hunger strike over Internet privacy has ended his protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court after collapsing and being taken to a hospital, he said on Monday. Brian Zulberti, 31, of Wilmington, Delaware, had launched his fast on June 1 to keep people from being fired for what they post on social media.

Many folks of the baby boom generation seeking public records via the Freedom of Information Act would look to a government official and ask, “May I have … ?”  They wonder how long they will have to wait for a response and how much it will cost. Many millennials seeking public records, expecting proactive disclosure, would look at their tablets and ask themselves, “Where can I find … ?”  More and more, the information will be at their fingertips. They don’t worry about cost, because they expect the information to be free online.
Watcdog Wire



What is it with elected officials and their aversion to conducting their business in the open and communicating with the public they’re responsible to?  Over the years, this newspaper hasn’t hesitated to call out government bodies and elected officials across the state when they’ve been reticent to engage with the public. And it’s that time, once again. Amherst County Supervisors John Marks and David Pugh made it clear recently that discussing public issues — in public — is not part of their agenda. The subject came up last month when they refused to host a work session with the group that wants to preserve the old Amherst Baptist Church for use as a town and county cultural center. Mr. Marks said that hosting a work session with Second Stage would set a “troublesome precedent.” A troublesome precedent? Sitting down with county residents to talk about the future of the county? That’s troublesome?
Daily Progress

Initial allegations that Puckett resigned to take a position with the state Tobacco Commission appeared to be less clear Monday. Republican Del. Terry Kilgore, who chairs the commission, canceled a meeting of its executive committee scheduled for Wednesday to discuss a potential - and unnamed - hire. Still, Puckett's decision, and whatever benefit he might reap from it - whether a judgeship for his daughter, a job for himself or simply the satisfaction of being out of the fray and away from Richmond - isn't likely to represent anything more than business as usual. Richmond lawmakers have long traded judgeships, and it's not uncommon for delegates and senators to rack up years of service in the General Assembly and jump to a more lucrative public job to maximize their pensions. Nothing in the ethics reform package approved this year changes any of that. Unseemly? Absolutely. Illegal? No. Incidentally, that's the same equation that former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, have asserted as they head toward a federal trial.

The sum of Roanoke County’s lawyer’s advice to the supervisors seems to be: Strike from the current policy attempts at setting “nonsectarian guidelines,” which the court singled out for opprobrium, saying such restrictions “would force legislatures to sponsor prayers and the courts . . . to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.” But, Mahoney continues, the high court ruling points approvingly to the way Congress accommodates the nation’s growing religious diversity “not by proscribing sectarian content but by welcoming ministers of many creeds.” This has not been much in evidence lately in Roanoke County government. It is crucial to the principle of religious freedom that it be enjoyed by all, without fear or favor of the government. Countless invocations have asked a higher power to grant government leaders wisdom. A sign of it now would be most timely.
Roanoke Times