Transparency News 6/17/14

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

State and Local Stories

The Richmond Police Department has shifted its policy that some argue limits access to public records and information the public has a right to know. The Freedom of Information Act or FOIA guarantees access to public records but Richmond Police recently started charging for every records request made to the department, regardless of how small, how basic or how easy to it is access. The fees makes our job at 8News of providing you important information harder and more importantly, it makes it more difficult for everyday people to access information they might want to know. Some argue the new fees go against the police chief's vow to be more transparent. No other jurisdiction in the region charges for information that's should be easy to access like mug shots and incident reports. In fact, some departments like the Virginia Supreme Court set a threshold of $7 and waive the fee for anything less than that. But according to Richmond Police's policy, the fees for these basic public records will range from $1-$8.

This week’s workshop and action meetings of the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond are available for online viewing Tuesday’s meeting is slated to begin at 1 p.m.; the panel will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. The board is expected to vote Wednesday on a $13.1 billion six-year plan of transportation projects, which includes a $203 million package of improvements along U.S. 29 in Albemarle County.
Daily Progress

Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to bar lawyers for former Gov. Bob McDonnell from presenting testimony at his corruption trial from five expert witnesses — including former Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley. The prosecutors also want to bar J. Allen Kosowsky, a certified public accountant, who plans to testify that "the McDonnells' finances were satisfactory and will thereby rebut the government's allegations that financial desperation motivated Mr. McDonnell to engage in criminal conduct."
Daily Progress

As Virginia Intermont College officials continue to determine what role the institution will play in the future, students and alumni need look no further than across town for their student academic records. An agreement was recently signed between VI and nearby King University to house the transcripts at King, officials said. VI ceased operations at the end of the spring semester amid declining enrollment, a loss of academic accreditation and financial problems. After graduation in May, most of the faculty was laid off and the president of the college resigned, while the operations of the school were taken over by a Nashville firm.
Herald Courier

The Virginia county that ignited a national debate by using local police to round up illegal immigrants is planning a new legal maneuver to force the U.S. government to divulge what it did with the more than 7,000 people turned over to deportation authorities. Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, told The Washington Times that about 10 percent of those it originally turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the last seven years have been re-arrested by county police for new crimes after they were released. Mr. Stewart plans to take the first step toward possible litigation against federal officials on Tuesday by asking his colleagues on the county board to authorize a Freedom of Information Act request to demand that the Department of Homeland Security divulge how many of the suspected illegal immigrants that county police arrested since 2007 were deported, released or kept in detention.
Washington Times

National Stories

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with an anti-abortion group in a political-speech case, opening the door for a broad challenge against the government’s right to police falsehoods in political advertising. A unanimous Supreme Court agreed that Susan B. Anthony List had standing to sue over the Ohio False Statement Law, reversing two lower court decisions that the group could not bring a lawsuit because it had not suffered any injury. The case arose in 2010, when SBA List sought to run a billboard against Ohio Democrat Steve Driehaus, who was then a member of Congress. Its message accused Driehaus of voting for taxpayer-funded abortion by supporting the Affordable Care Act. Driehaus complained to Ohio election regulators, alleging the billboard—had it run—would have violated the state law. He filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission, and a three-member panel found “probable cause” that the group’s planned message could be false.

The NSA's ubiquitous Glomar response continues to appear on every FOIA request denial it issues. The entirety of the NSA's systems can neither be confirmed nor denied, no matter how much information has been leaked to the press over the past year.  Investigative reporter Jason Leopold recently filed a FOIA request asking the agency to turn over any documents related to the phrases displayed on the leaked slide pictured below. 

The Internal Revenue Service commissioner will testify before two House committees next week about the agency’s disclosure that it lost thousands of emails sought by investigators looking into accusations of politically motivated misconduct by the agency, the committees said Monday. The I.R.S. told congressional investigators on Friday that two years’ worth of emails sent and received by Lois Lerner, the former official at the center of the inquiry, had been destroyed because of a computer crash in mid-2011. The committees are examining whether the lost emails involved obstruction or a violation of the Federal Records Act, aides to the committees said.
New York Times

Town officials of Oyster Bay, N.Y., likely aren’t scoring points with transparency advocates after clamping down on how the town’s information is released through social networks. But legal experts believe the more cautious approach is a good one for many local governments. The Long Island town revised its information technology policy to prohibit employees from communicating official documents through social media applications without prior authorization, according to Newsday. Although the move may slow interaction between residents and the town, Chuck Thompson, general counsel and executive director of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, felt the decision might help address one of the biggest issues local governments are currently struggling with -- disclosure requirements.

In 2010, Colorado became the first state to appoint a chief data officer (CDO). A year later, New York City pioneered the position in local government. Since then, the ranks of CDOs in state and local government have grown steadily, driven by expanding interest in predictive analytics, civic hacking and performance measurement. Research by Government Technology located more than a dozen CDOs in states and localities across the U.S. And that number seems poised to multiply as governments seek to harness the power of big data. Although public agencies collect mountains of information, they’ve struggled to share and integrate data streams in ways that support comprehensive analysis. Issues around data ownership, as well as privacy laws and public perception, have been significant stumbling blocks.
Government Technology

A former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader should not have been allowed to sue an Arizona-based gossip website over online posts about her sexual history, an appeals court ruled in a case watched closely by Internet giants including Google and Facebook. The ruling from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a Kentucky federal judge’s decision that allowed the cheerleader’s lawsuit to proceed and further strengthens broad immunities enjoyed by Internet providers for content posted by third parties.

The Supreme Court agreed to take up a free-speech case that examines what it means to threaten someone in the Internet age. The court said it would consider an appeal from a Pennsylvania man convicted of making threats on Facebook against his estranged wife, law enforcement and local elementary schools.
Wall Street Journal

The town of Weare, New Hampshire, settled a lawsuit last week for $57,500 with a woman arrested for videotaping a police officer, adding to the growing list of settlements stemming from police officers’ restriction of video and audio recordings in public places. In Gericke v. Begin, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) upheld a lower court opinion that Carla Gericke was within her First Amendment rights to record a police officer at a traffic stop. Following that opinion, instead of choosing to continue with the trial, Weare settled the case with Gericke.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press


Virginia allows public bodies to enter closed session but the commonwealth's Freedom of Information Act clearly asserts, "The affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy." Elected officials in Hampton Roads compromise that straightforward principle when they broadly define or vaguely cite reasons for entering closed session. By exploiting the law's flexibility, they close the door on the public when it suits them and deflect responsibility for their actions. Citizen scrutiny is an expectation of holding elected office and those unwilling to fully embrace openness have no business in public life. The people's business must be conducted transparently, and frequent or eager violators should be held accountable.
Daily Press

The sheer number of problems uncovered by an audit at the state Department of Conservation and Recreation speaks to an alarming failure in the agency's culture and processes. The Auditor of Public Accounts' examination of the state's parks department prompted 93 recommendations for changes, in areas ranging from credit-card use to employee housing to payroll and procurement to human resources to governance to the administration of tax credits. The headline from the audit is that DCR owes $500,000 in sales taxes on concession sales at state parks. But the huge catalog of problems, first reported by The Virginian-Pilot's Julian Walker, is much more troubling than that.