Transparency News, 6/22/20


June 22, 2020
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state & local news stories
"If it is legal to release the information now, it was legal to release it when it was first requested."

After months of resistance, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday that the Virginia Department of Health would begin releasing facility-specific information on COVID-19 outbreaks within long-term care facilities. The initial data shows that a total 178 long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living centers, and campuses with multiple levels of care, have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19. Seventy-one of those are “outbreaks in progress,” according to VDH. The decision to release the numbers represents an abrupt reversal for Northam, whose administration previously insisted that releasing the data would violate the state’s patient privacy laws. VDH officials have repeatedly stated that the state’s long-term care facilities are considered “individuals” with confidentiality rights. Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, previously said the nondisclosure policy was “based on guidance from the Virginia Commissioner of Health, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.” “Families have sought this information — information they could use to protect their loved ones from a lethal threat — for months,” Republican House Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah added. “… If it is legal to release the information now, it was legal to release it when it was first requested. Perhaps, had the Governor not been distracted by his political rehabilitation, he could have realized this earlier and lives could have been saved.”
Virginia Mercury

Amid outcries for more police accountability and transparency, the Norfolk Police Department and city officials are choosing to keep secret thousands of records that show how officers beat, Taser, pepper spray and shoot people. Earlier this month, The Virginian-Pilot used the state’s open records law to request every police use-of-force report from the past decade. The department and the city denied every one, citing a state law that lets them choose whether to release them. The secrecy, which has been in place for years, makes it impossible to tell whether police use force differently in different parts of the city, or against black people — or whether any officers have committed a disproportionate number of shootings. Now, amid a national push for police reform, four council members — including the mayor — say that should change. They said they’ll push City Manager Chip Filer or City Attorney Bernard Pishko to make the reports public.
The Virginian-Pilot

Nearly two years after Charlottesville kicked off the process to create a police oversight panel, a permanent board has been scheduled to hold its inaugural meeting. But both publicly and behind the scenes, it appears the board may already be running into some of the same problems that plagued its predecessor. The official board so far has been silent on the protests [related to the killing of George Floyd]. Other groups, such as the People's Coalition, have called for intense reviews of the Charlottesville Police Department's budget, because documents released to community members after recent records requests don't provide much detail. "The CPD’s budgets were made public in the vein of 'transparency,' after numerous residents requested the complete line-itemized budgets," the coalition wrote to the council in a letter on Friday. "CPD produced these one-page “budgets” indicating either (1) that these are the most complete and comprehensive budget documents they have created for the City, or (2) that the City has a more comprehensive budget and simply chose not to provide it."
The Daily Progress

A member of the Suffolk School Board has sued the board, and most of the rest of its members individually, due to what the lawsuit states are repeated violations of the state’s open-meetings laws. Board member Sherri Story is suing Chair Phyllis Byrum and Vice Chair Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, along with members Karen Jenkins, Lorita Mayo and Tyron Riddick. Story’s attorney, Kevin Martingayle, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Suffolk Circuit Court. In the petition, Story accuses the five board members of disregarding open-meetings laws. David Mitnick, who often sides with Story, is named only as a “nominal defendant entitled to notice.” This is not the first time in Story’s year-and-a-half tenure on the board that she has pushed back with an attorney. She retained Martingayle’s services in 2019 in the wake of disciplinary actions that had been taken against her by the board, and he sent several pieces of correspondence on her behalf, urging the rest of the board to comply with FOIA and cease harassment of Story.
Suffolk News-Herald

A recent graduate of Smithfield High School said his speech was censored during his graduation ceremony. The senior recorded a speech that addressed mental health awareness and education, but it wasn’t included in the virtual commencement video June 13. Instead, it was later added to an updated version of the virtual graduation ceremony on Youtube after the student and his family voiced their concerns about the omission.

A Rockingham County judge scheduled a trial for a former Dayton town manager, and one-time town mayoral candidate, accused of illegally logging into town email accounts. John Crim, 73, was indicted Feb. 18 on two felony counts of computer trespassing. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. During a hearing in Rockingham County Circuit Court Thursday, Judge T.J. Wilson scheduled a jury trial for Aug. 28. Prosecutors claim Crim logged into town email accounts in June 2018, years after he left his position as town manager and while he was a candidate for mayor.
Daily News Record
stories of national interest
"Trip data, which includes real-time locations and routes, could — without a significant amount of effort — be fleshed out to reveal the individual identities of riders, the lawsuit states."

A federal judge denied on Saturday the Trump administration's request to block the release of John Bolton's memoir, noting that the former national security adviser's book had already been "printed, bound and shipped across the country." U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth said the Justice Department’s request to suppress the tell-all book on national security grounds would be impossible to enforce, but criticized Bolton's decision to move ahead with publication without the explicit go-ahead from the government. "While Bolton's unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns, the government has not established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy," Lamberth wrote.

The collection of trip-data from shared e-scooters in Los Angeles is being challenged in federal court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), filed a case in Federal District Court in California, on behalf of plaintiffs Justin Sanchez and Eric Alejo, claiming the Los Angeles Department of Transportation ought not collect detailed trip data for shared micro-mobility devices like bikes and scooters. The lawsuit, filed on June 8, 2020, seeks to halt the collection of this data by LADOT. Trip data, which includes real-time locations and routes, could — without a significant amount of effort — be fleshed out to reveal the individual identities of riders, the lawsuit states.
Government Technology