Transparency News 6/11/14

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

State and Local Stories
Virginia has launched a new website to provide information on road projects across the state. The Virginia Department of Transportation portal,, for interactive maps that show latest paving conditions and construction projects.

The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to delay any alterations to the county’s policy on prayer at public meetings, opting instead to more closely examine the matter first. The decision came in the form of a split 3-2 vote and prevented the advancement of a measure that would have officially made the opening invocation part of the supervisors’ regular agenda, rather than an item held just prior to the meeting’s commencement.
Roanoke Times

Shenandoah County can add video recordings of its Board of Supervisors meetings beginning in August, thanks to a donation from local prominent businessman. The board voted 4-2 at its regular meeting Tuesday to allow the county to buy cameras and other equipment needed to record video of the sessions for later viewing. The county should begin including the video in its online meeting content in August. William "Bill" Holtzman, president and owner of the Mount Jackson-based Holtzman Corporation, donated a large amount of the money needed. "I have no agenda," Holtzman said Tuesday afternoon, refuting claims that he might stand to gain by giving the money. "If people are afraid to have the board meetings video'ed, they must have something to hide."
Northern Virginia Daily

Outgoing Culpeper Mayor Chip Coleman continues to be mired in legal challenges. Monday in Culpeper General District Court, a trial date of Aug. 20 was set in the sexual battery charge recently filed against him by a local woman related to an alleged incident that occurred on Dec. 20. In a separate defamation case in Culpeper GDC in which Coleman is also a defendant, an originally scheduled trial date is being changed due to a change in his attorney reportedly because of an unintentional leak of the mayor's controversial text messages. Some questioned and criticized media outlets for not reporting the contents of the hundreds of pages of the mayor's emails, claiming the correspondence was all publicly accessible through the Freedom of Information Act. Allen Gernhardt, staff attorney with the Virginia FOIA Council, said that's not exactly true. "It doesn't matter what device they are using, if it's the transaction of public business, if they're talking about their job in public service, it's all FOIA-able," he said. "If it's people talking about someone's wife having an affair, that is personal and not subject to FOIA." Gernhardt said the rules for what is accessible through a subpoena differ. Generally speaking, he said, more can be obtained through a litigant in a court case versus what the public can access through FOIA.
Star Exponent

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by the popular website Yelp, which was ordered earlier this year to turn over the names of seven reviewerswho anonymously criticized a prominent local carpet-cleaning business.
The business review website is pitted against Virginia-based Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, whose owner sought to unmask anonymous commenters after suspecting that the negative reviews left on Yelp were not made by real customers. Both an Alexandria judge and the Virginia Court of Appeals have sided with business owner Joe Hadeed, ruling that the comments were not protected First Amendment opinions if, in fact, the Yelp users were not customers and thus were making false claims.
Washington Times      


National Stories

Ahead of Wednesday's scheduled court hearing in the case of two Waukesha girls charged with stabbing their friend, a judge on Tuesday ordered that news media not show the 12-year-old defendants' faces when they appear. News media groups later filed a motion seeking a reconsideration of the order, which the motion called "unprecedented" for adult criminal defendants. At the girls' initial court appearance last week, no such restriction was ordered, and because the girls are charged as adults with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, their identities were public record. An attorney for one of the girls asked that news media be barred, but a different judge denied the request.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Hilton Head, S.C., Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette have moved to intervene in the appeal of a Beaufort County judge's decision to seal records related to Coral Resorts, a Hilton Head Island timeshare company facing more than 25 lawsuits from disgruntled owners. An attorney for the newspapers filed a motion Tuesday to challenge the company's attempt to seal an appeal of an order by 14th Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen. The order closed documents related to the company that were originally public, court records show. Attorneys for timeshare owners appealed her decision, arguing the sealed documents are public records and might prove the company broke the law, according to court records.
Island Packet

The Center for Competitive Politics on Monday sued the Federal Election Commission,alleging the FEC denied the group's Freedom of Information Act request for a document that "relates to a complaint against Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies that was dismissed last December." The document that the CCP seeks to acquire is an "unredacted copy of the First General Counsel's Report" from June 22, 2011, according the the group's original FOIA request. This report, claims the CCP, should be publicly available "as a matter of longstanding policy reflected in federal regulations."
Washington Examiner

In an apparent expansion of the government’s secrecy powers, the top official in charge of the classification system has decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. President Obama’s executive order governing secrecy bars use of the classification system to cover up illegal or embarrassing conduct. But the official, John P. Fitzpatrick, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, accepted the Marines’ rationale for classifying the photographs: that their dissemination could encourage attacks against troops.
New York Times



There are two possible explanations for the Richmond’s refusal to divulge records this newspaper requested under the Freedom of Information Act — neither of them satisfactory. It’s possible that the communications sought by the newspaper contain something unflattering or embarrassing to Mayor Dwight Jones’ administration. If so, then the refusal to reveal them looks like an attempt to sweep the matter under the rug. Alternatively, perhaps everyone involved in the story has behaved with the utmost rectitude and sagacity.In that case, the refusal to reveal the communications looks like a truculent defiance of the principle of open government.

Democrats’ outrage against Republicans—who they claim tried to “bribe” Puckett with the job—is misplaced. If Democrats must blame anyone, Puckett should be their target. While his family issues deserve sympathy, his timing and other motivations are a betrayal of the people who elected him to represent their interests, as well as those who hoped a Democratic state Senate could help them get health coverage. But more broadly, the whole fiasco speaks volumes about Virginia’s pathetically lax ethics laws. Why would a state senator even be eligible to move, in the space of a week, from the legislature to a highly paid tobacco commission job—which also carries with it a much higher retirement pension than the job of state legislator? Why does Virginia not ban legislators from taking jobs with state government or state-affiliated groups like the tobacco commission for at least a year after leaving office?
Free Lance-Star

Despite efforts to portray it as “traitorous,” it’s tough to see state Sen. Phil Puckett’s recent resignation as anything but an earnest approach to a difficult choice. Mr. Puckett resigned in part to give his daughter a clear path toward permanent appointment as a state judge. Back in February, Mr. Puckett said to a reporter that in December 2013, Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City — then Senate majority leader — told him: “If you weren't a senator, it [the appointment] wouldn't be an issue.' " This week, Mr. Puckett removed that obstacle. And this week, Mr. Norment said he didn’t know when, or if, the Senate would appoint Ms. Ketron. He added that it was “unkind” for anyone to suggest that Mr. Puckett’s resignation was unethical.
Daily Progress

What a proud moment for Virginia. Our General Assembly, unwilling to compromise on expanding Medicaid or to enact real ethics reform legislation, has become a complete embarrassment. State Sen. Phillip Puckett’s resignation Monday demonstrates the sad fact that too many of our legislators are in it for themselves and themselves alone.
News Leader