Transparency News 6/13/18



June 13, 2018


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state & local news stories


"The city manager should not share conversations about closed-door council meetings, Moss said."

Note: There was no newsletter yesterday, June 12.

Two Virginia Beach City Council members are calling for City Manager Dave Hansen to be fired after finding out that Hansen emailed developer Bruce Thompson about a closed-door council meeting related to proposals for a new Oceanfront pier. Councilman John Moss said he discovered recently that Hansen forwarded Thompson an email he had sent in December about an upcoming council executive session. Thompson, at that point, had been in negotiations with the city for nearly two years to build a new concrete pier at 15th Street. The city manager should not share conversations about closed-door council meetings, Moss said. The law allows the council to meet privately under certain circumstances, including for contract negotiations and discussing proprietary information included in public-private partnerships.
The Virginian-Pilot

A statement released by the Dayton Town Council on Monday about the demotion of former Police Chief Danny Hanlon appears to have violated the state’s open meeting laws, according to Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. The statement was sent by Councilman Todd Collier, who said in a voice mail left at the Daily News-Record that it was approved by council, and it’s signed as the Dayton Town Council.
Daily News-Record

A Vinton man filed a complaint to the Roanoke Electoral Board this week alleging it violated state laws requiring meeting notifications and publication of meeting minutes. Aaron Stevenson sent the complaint to the electoral board and will subsequently file it in Roanoke Circuit Court, he said in a message to The Roanoke Times. Stevenson requests injunctions against the board compelling their compliance with state open records and meetings law. In his complaint, Stevenson said the board failed on eight occasions to provide him with requested direct notice of its upcoming meetings or to provide it in a timely manner as required by law. The board failed to publish public notice on its website or to do it more than three working days ahead of the meeting on six occasions, he claims.
The Roanoke Times

Front Royal Town Councilman Jacob Meza, a Valley Health employee, opted to not recuse himself from a vote regarding whether the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority could issue Valley Health a bond for its new Warren Memorial Hosptial. This comes after Meza previously recused himself from votes regarding the rezoning of the future hospital’s site from agricultural to mix-use campus. The bond was approved 3-1, with Councilman John Connolly serving as the lone dissenter, and Councilmen Gary Gillispie and Christopher Morrison absent.
Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

Responding to high-profile cases in which law enforcement agencies’ failure to timely inform the public about police shootings and aggravated public distrust, the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information is issuing guidelines for agencies to consider in informing the public when officers use force.  The report, “Transparency and Media Relations in High-Profile Police Cases,” was prepared at the request of the King County, Wash., Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (“OLEO”), an independent oversight entity serving the county, which encompasses the Seattle area. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to work cooperatively with a forward-thinking law enforcement agency on formulating a set of best practices that will minimize friction in interactions with journalists in high-pressure situations,” said Frank D. LoMonte, UF media-law professor and director of the Brechner Center. “When a newsworthy event occurs, people are bombarded with rumor and speculation on social media. Pushing out reliable information promptly, and keeping that information regularly updated, is the best antidote.”
Brechner Center

A box filled with 1,500 pages of paper awaits pickup at the Peru (Illinois) City Clerk’s Office. It’s been there since late April and is the result of one of the nearly 60 Freedom of Information Act Requests fielded this year by the city of Peru. “We’ve been inundated with FOIAs lately,” said Peru city clerk Dave Bartley. “Most of them are pretty easy, but the FOIAs that cast a very wide net are the ones that are time consuming.” While the internet means more requests coming in, city officials said it also helps quickly fulfill requests. “A way a municipality can help itself is to have a large volume of searchable documents on its website,” Bartley said. Willingness to engage in a dialogue with requesters is important too, city officials said, especially for putting a finer point on expansive searches.
News Tribune

Three former aides to Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt confirmed to congressional investigators that the EPA delayed producing emails and other government documents sought by members of the public through public records requests by choosing instead to respond to old petitions made during the Obama administration first. The so-called “first in, first out” tactic for requests made through the Freedom of Information Act is yet another example of the EPA restricting what records make their way into the public eye since Pruitt has taken office. That public records policy was described in a letter sent Monday to Pruitt by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which requested documents from the administrator.
Santa Fe New Mexican

Puerto Rico's government complied with a court order and released new records Tuesday of deaths following Hurricane Maria. The data reveal that there were 1,427 more deaths in the last four months of 2017 than the average over the four years before. The new count comes as legal questions swirl around the official death toll and reports that hundreds of bodies remain unclaimed in the island's main morgue. The Puerto Rican government maintains an official death toll of 64, but as early as December Gov. Ricardo Rossello conceded the count might be inaccurate. He has said he will not raise the official figure until George Washington University completes a study on the data, according to The Associated Press. The order to release the records came in response to a lawsuit filed by CNN and Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism.

The U.S. Department of Justice went on the attack against the University of Michigan's free speech code Monday, saying universities and colleges haven't done a good job of creating true freedom of speech on their campuses. "In recent years, many institutions of higher education have failed to uphold these freedoms, and free speech has come under attack on campuses across the country," the Justice Department said in a statement of interest filed in federal court. The statement was filed in a suit brought by a group looking to bring down U-M's speech code.