Transparency News 6/28/18



June 28, 2018


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state & local news stories


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The Richmond Police Department’s decision to encrypt its radio traffic was a matter of officer safety and not an attempt to circumvent transparency, the city’s police chief told media representatives on Tuesday. The department, along with the Chesterfield and Henrico police, will be encrypting radio transmissions starting Monday, meaning that the public and media will no longer be able to listen to or monitor law enforcement activity. Up until then, police had dispatched and communicated on open channels that could be overheard through scanners and online services. This meant that tactics and personal information were shared in real time, which officials said put their officers and their operations at risk. “We are not trying to hide anything,” Police Chief Alfred Durham said in his first public comments on the issue. “This is about officer safety.” Durham cited a March 22 standoff that closed Interstate 95/64 for more than two hours while an armed man refused to surrender. “A lot of that radio traffic was being communicated over the airwaves to the citizens from a few of the media outlets and that compromises our tactical decision-making and what’s going on at the scene,” he said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

At the final council meeting of his term Thursday, Pound Town Councilman Terry Short unloaded with both barrels about problems he sees with town government that he says have helped create the town's current plight. Short read his farewell address at the end of a session marked by continued debate over the 2018-19 budget, which council adopted the same night with only Short opposed. Some of his departing remarks sounded familiar, as the councilman has zeroed in on the same and similar issues since taking office four years ago — adherence to policies and procedures, spending, controls, accountability.  Clerk Treasurer Jenny Carter, who also is the town Freedom of Information Act officer, had questions. "Are you insinuating I have done something wrong?" Carter asked, adding that she had tried to provide Short with everything he'd asked for. "It just seems like somewhat of an attack to me," she said. "I feel like it is uncalled for."
The Coalfield Progress

The Nelson County Planning Commission will consider a request for a special use permit to construct a building that will contain three suites for a nanobrewery, farm winery and restaurant on Virginia 151 next month after tabling the discussion during Wednesday’s meeting. Commissioners tabled the discussion to its July 25 meeting due to the minor site plan not being available in the planning commission packet for the public to view before the public hearing Wednesday night.
The News & Advance


stories of national interest

The Cuomo administration has announced the launching of a new website that provides access to the public records of dozens of New York state agencies and public authorities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that Open FOIL NY is a centralized online location to file Freedom of Information Law requests with 59 state entities. The Democrat says it's the first time in New York that the public can make requests for government records through a single state website. The website allows for requesting information from multiple state agencies at the same time.
North Country Public Radio

Maryland state’s attorney’s officials have asked police to not release video footage police say shows a man knock an officer down and stand over him as the officer fatally shoots him.
The Washington Post




editorials & columns


"I was going to wave the flag of open government and the people’s right to know."

In a sad, terrible accident, the world lost an Abingdon teenager earlier this month. The state police is prevented by law from saying his name. What we do know, thanks to social media and a confirmation from the medical examiner’s office, is the boy’s name: Cody Adkins.  That’s information we would not have been able to share had we only been able to rely on the state police to release his name under a broad, far-reaching law, quietly passed through the Virginia General Assembly, that withholds the names of juveniles who are victims of any crime — any crime at all — in the state. When a young man dies, part of our sad and often uncomfortable duty is to find out why. Further, our obligation is to tell his story, to mark his passing, and, in some cases, to celebrate the person we lost and ensure that in some small way, he is remembered. Cody Adkins’ short life is now a part of the record: He was an amazing kid who would make you laugh. He was goofy. He had a bright smile. He hung out with friends. He played video games. He loved the Dallas Cowboys. He loved and was loved in return, and his death leaves our entire community diminished. His story deserves to be told. It’s a shame the Virginia Legislature believes we shouldn’t know his name.
Bristol Herald Courier

Many of the current reporters and editors at The Pilot weren’t here a decade ago. Yet I’m heartened we fought so vigorously – and successfully – against a subpoena of The Pilot’s Scott Daugherty in the criminal case against Portsmouth Councilman Mark Whitaker.  Such obstacles harm readers, too. The reporter who can best provide nuance and context is shut out. Had this ploy worked, Daugherty would’ve been barred from even speaking with other reporters about the trial. The paper now has more options. Court subpoenas compromise journalists, suggesting we’re nothing more than an arm of police and prosecutors. We try to maintain a respectable distance from that notion; we want to report on all sides fairly. Sources and witnesses will clam up if they believe we’re agents of the state.
Roger Chesley, The Virginian-Pilot

When I took the reins of the coalition in 2008 and headed into my first legislative session in 2009, I remembered Frosty’s advice. I was going to show up. I was going to wave the flag of open government and the people’s right to know. I wanted people to see me and immediately think “FOIA,” “sunshine,” and “transparency.” When open government legislation is proposed, legislators and lobbyists alike expect to see me at some point. For a small non-profit, that kind of recognition is invaluable. Over the years, I’ve seen a subtle shift in the legislature’s attitude towards transparency, too. Each year, VCOG tracks proposed legislation that impacts FOIA other access-related topics.
Megan Rhyne, The Roanoke Times

The world as a whole has become a population of texters and with that new reality comes the question, should text messages be public record? The same way that emails have become a critical part of a typical legal investigation, now texting enters that same arena. The window of privacy is closing quickly on many forms of communication that were long since considered safe, secure and secret by users. Due to the frequency of government officials, employees and business owners using text messages in regular communication with other people, those records are coming under scrutiny. There is a strong push from lawyers, newspapers, public interest groups, and employers for text messages to be covered under the Freedom of Information Act and considered public records. If the courts rule that text messages are public records, the issue of free speech will undoubtedly come into play. On a good note, government officials and law enforcement personnel will be more accountable for their actions.
Michael Austin, Market Mogul