Transparency News 6/19/14

Thursday, June 19, 2014

State and Local Stories

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, including his alleged consideration for a job on the state tobacco commission and the pending judicial appointment of his daughter in Southwest Virginia. Sources familiar with the probe, speaking on condition of anonymity, said representatives of the FBI and United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia have been conducting interviews, including with elected officials who may have knowledge of the chain of events. One source said a grand jury will convene in Abingdon next week to hear testimony on the matter.

Isle of Wight will spend about $50,000 next year for an outside consultant to evaluate the county's pay scales and see how they stack up against other localities. Isle of Wight spokesman Don Robertson said it's been about six or seven years since the county's done a pay study. In that time, the salaries Isle of Wight offers have fallen out of line with those offered for similar jobs around the region, he said.
Daily Press

The need for a sharp and independent mind to scrutinize Portsmouth's city departments called the City Council to action two years ago. The council created the position of city auditor, someone to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse, and make the city run more efficiently. Council members hired Jesse Andre Thomas in April 2013. Fourteen months have passed since Thomas took the job. He has not yet released any audits, large or small, The Virginian-Pilot has learned. Nor has he submitted a key document to the City Council for approval - required in his job description - that lays out what audits he plans to conduct each year.

The Amherst Education Association, an advocacy group of about 100 school employees, seeks a referendum on the November ballot to elect school board members. More than 2,000 signatures must be collected by September to be placed on this year’s ballot. Earlier, AEA president Melanie Lewis had voiced fears that Stanley wouldn’t be reappointed for being an outspoken advocate of the school system. She stated appointed, as opposed to elected, school board members may be less inclined to be vocal about school needs. The Amherst County Board of Supervisors decided to not reappoint School Board Chairman Jones Stanley to his seat as the District 3 representative on the board. His challenger, Edward Olivares, also was not appointed. The Board of Supervisors instead voted Tuesday to re-advertise for the vacancy. Terms are set to expire June 30.
New Era Progress

Pittsylvania County plans to modernize its phone system in the treasurer’s office, which has not been updated since it was installed in 1968. Out of about a dozen telephone lines in the treasurer’s office, only two — those for the treasurer and the chief deputy treasurer — include an option for callers to leave voicemail, said Chief Deputy Treasurer Donna Hudson. “It is always a problem during the tax season when bills go out and people have questions,” Hudson said.
Register & Bee

National Stories

bill to force government agencies to get warrants before they access the email of people under investigation advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives after a majority of lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors. Advocates of the reform, which have included large tech companies such as Google, welcomed the news of 218 lawmakers signing on to the bill in the Republican-controlled House.

As the importance of data to efficiency in the public sector becomes increasingly clear, one of the models for integrating new uses of it into government operations stands out. This model relies on two seemingly opposing factors: strong central leadership in setting policy and implementation accompanied by a broadly distributed ability to use the data throughout the organization. The city of Chicago has been a pioneer of this strategy. Its Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), led by CIO Brenna Berman and with strong mayoral support, is ensuring that data use spreads throughout the city. DoIT is developing an advanced analytics platform while at the same time engaging users across departments to identify problems they can solve with better data. A recent pilot project, for example, enabled the Department of Streets and Sanitation to target rodent-baiting to areas where data predicted infestations. And the model is spreading. In March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence issued an executive order creating a state Management and Performance Hub (MPH) to increase the effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of state government by dramatically simplifying and increasing the use of data across agencies. 

A U.S. District Court in Texas ruled that Texas’ anti-SLAPP law applies in federal courts and then dismissed a defamation claim under that statute. The district court judge ruled on June 11 that defendants, broadcast companies operating under the name KRIS Communications, could apply the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) to a lawsuit brought by Christopher Williams.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

It's been said often that government is behind industry in many ways, that the public sector needs to change -- and for a handful of government officials, industry players and citizens who've connected with government at hackathons, there are some concrete changes they'd like to see. If You Could Change One Thing About Government ... Take Dahl Winters, a Colorado-based research and development scientist and recent winner at Google’s first GovDev Challenge, who would change the fact that government seems so far away. "I would like the government to be a little closer to me in terms of how I interact with it," he said. "In order to find any information at all, I have to search on the Web, and go to a government website and find this and find that. It’s just so far removed from me other than when I go to vote," which he said is basically the only government interaction he has. In that same vein, Kelly Shuster, a Colorado-based software developer and first place winner of Google’s first GovDev Challenge, said she would change increased transparency in terms of "it being what we call a push system instead of a pull system," she said. "I think a lot of society right now is just used to that -- people get their news that way, people get a lot of things that way.
Government Technology

Ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, making it likely the lost emails of the lightening rod in the tea party targeting controversy will never be found, according to multiple sources. “We’ve been informed that the hard drive has been thrown away,” Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a brief hallway interview. It may just be standard government procedure, but the revelation is significant because some lawmakers and observers thought there was a way that tech experts could revive Lerner’s emails after they were washed away in a computer crash in the summer of 2011.

A list of potential bidders for the federal government's multimillion-dollar bitcoin auction was released in error Wednesday by the U.S. Marshals Service, media reports say. The Marshals Service confirmed that it distributed the names in an email to update interested parties on the auction's guidelines, the New York Times and other news organizations reported. "The U.S. Marshals Service inadvertently sent an email today revealing the email addresses of people who had submitted questions about the bitcoin auction to a general USMS mailbox that had been created for the auction," Lynzey Donahue, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals, said in an email. "The USMS apologizes for this mistake which was in no way intentional."
USA Today


The case for a new U.S. 460 never added up, and apparently, even the project's biggest public supporter knew it. When the Army Corps of Engineers began pushing back on the plan for a tolled, 55-mile limited access highway - and its potential harm to the environment - Sean Connaughton tried to create a narrative that would undercut the federal agency, The Pilot's Dave Forster recently reported. Connaughton, secretary of transportation for then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, wrote to staff members at the Virginia Department of Transportation last year and demanded a "media response plan." "The message must be that the ACOE is trying to destroy southside Virginia along the existing 460 and destroy the environment," Connaughton wrote in an email released to Forster under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. Of course, it didn't work because it wasn't true. 

It would be more convenient if journalists’ sources always came in through the front door. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work that way. The people who are close enough to malfeasance to smell the brimstone often aren’t really in a position to give reporters their names. If a prick of conscience or a cloudier ulterior motive leads them to call a reporter, they will need and demand invisibility. Sometimes, that’s how the truth gets out. Richard Nixon would have served two full terms if Deep Throat, the Washington Post reporters’ source, hadn’t been guaranteed anonymity. The U.S. Senate is considering bringing the Free Flow of Information Act to the floor for a vote. The act will go far toward preventing courts from forcing reporters to reveal their unnamed sources. Most states already have laws protecting journalists’ sources, but those don’t hold sway in federal cases. The House already has approved an amendment that forbids the Justice Department from spending money forcing a journalist to testify. Here’s what can happen without FFIA: 
Free Lance-Star

Virginia is one of about 10 states that does not have a shield law. One was proposed in the Virginia  legislature several years ago, but press law lawyers in the state determined that there were too many exceptions written into it and that journalists would have a better chance arguing for First Amendment protection and using existing case law to thwart subpoenas. What does a shield law have to do with open government? Plenty.
Dick Hammerstrom, Free Lance-Star