Transparency News, 6/7/21


June 7, 2021
follow us on TwitterFacebook & Instagram
state & local news stories
We're giving a how-to workshop on HB 2004, the bill designed to provide some measure of access to inactive criminal investigative files. We'll dissect the bill to explain how it is intended to work and how it interacts with other parts of FOIA. We'll also offer tips and strategies for asking for records under this new provision.
Join us via Zoom on June 17 at 2 p.m. Register here.
* * *

A judge has rejected Prince William County’s quest for sanctionsand formally ended a lawsuit saying members of the Board of County Supervisors violated open meeting laws last spring. Circuit Court Judge Dennis Smith finalized an order on May 18 tossing a petition to reconsider a lawsuit by three county residents. Alan Gloss, Carol Fox and Tammy Spinks filed the lawsuit last year against Board Chair Ann Wheeler and Democratic supervisors Victor Angry, Neabsco District; Margaret Franklin, Woodbridge District; Kenny Boddye, Occoquan District, and Andrea Bailey, Potomac District.  The plaintiffs claimed that the supervisors violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by attending a forum organized by the police chief. The lawsuit was dismissed Oct. 7. Afterward, the board’s Democrats sought reimbursement for $95,400 in legal fees.  Smith ruled against the Democrats’ request for reimbursement and dismissed the motion to reconsider the case.

Seven teachers with Chesterfield County Public Schools will not return this coming school year after a School Board vote, a decision that drew a sharp rebuke from the county’s teachers union after an unprecedented school year in a district with more than 100 teaching openings. The Chesterfield School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of the superintendent’s recommendation to not renew the teachers’ contracts for the 2021-2022 academic year. School Board members voted on the personnel recommendation and 13 other items, including adopting the meeting agenda, with no discussion Tuesday.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Residents and members of the public can weigh in this week on the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s annual and capital plans. The housing authority is hosting a pair of virtual public hearings Wednesday at noon and 5:30 p.m. to gather input. The opportunities to weigh in come earlier in the process this year, following a request from the RRHA’s board of commissioners. The shift is meant to allow more time to amend the proposal to incorporate public feedback before a final vote on it, board members said. “My request to the public is: Come with everything you have,” said Barrett Hardiman, a commissioner who was critical of last year’s process. “We are listening. ... We’re doing everything we can to make the housing authority work for the entire community.” The draft plans are available for review on the housing authority’s website.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
stories from around the country
A now-former Colorado state trooper faces felony menacing charges for allegedly pointing a rifle at a driver while off-duty in southwest Denver last month. The Denver District Attorney’s Office took the unusual step Thursday of announcing it had filed felony criminal charges against a “Colorado law enforcement officer” who prosecutors then declined to publicly identify. Prosecutors planned to publicly identify the officer before his next court date in mid-June, district attorney spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said. They did not identify him Thursday because they wanted to give the victims the chance to identify the suspect without having previously seen his name or picture in the news media, Tyler said. Basic information about arrests and criminal charges are public records in Colorado and must be released upon the filing of a request, said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. The Denver Post filed a records request Thursday afternoon for basic arrest information from the case with the Denver Police Department but did not immediately receive a response.
The Denver Post

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) this week vetoed a pair of bills passed by the statehouse that related to capacity restrictions at graduation ceremonies and open records requests during the coronavirus pandemic. The latter nixed a plan that would have prevented state officials from citing the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to delay responding to requests made for public recordsthrough the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. In regards to the FOIA bill she vetoed, Whitmer said the initial intent of the executive order extending the deadline on public records requests was meant as a way to "protect the lives of public officials tasked with responding to FOIA requests during the first surge," calling it an "exceptionally frightening and uncertain moment in Michigan’s history."  "[The executive order] was limited in scope and did not change FOIA’s core requirement that public bodies respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner," she said.
The Hill

Thousands of emails pertaining to National Institutes of Health head Anthony Fauci from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were not “leaked” – as posts on social media claim – but were accessed via Freedom of Information Act requests. FOIA has “provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency” since 1967. Often used by journalists, researchers as well as curious citizens, federal agencies in the United States are required to turn over requested information when requested this way, unless it falls under a specific exception (such as national security).

The FBI has dropped an effort to force the publisher of USA Today to turn over information that could disclose who read one of the newspaper's online stories about a February shooting incident in Florida that left a suspect and two FBI agents dead, as well as three other agents wounded. The subpoena issued to USA Today's parent company, Gannett, in April demanded internet addresses and similar details on readers of the story during a 35-minute window on the evening of the shooting at an apartment complex in Sunrise, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. Gannett went to federal court in Washington last week to void the subpoena, arguing that it violated the First Amendment and that the FBI had ignored the Justice Department's regulations governing efforts to seek information from the news media.

Outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has prompted lawmakers and officials in many places across the country to mandate more transparency, and oversight, after police use serious or deadly force. The Justice Department, when brought in to investigate local police, often insists on steps to curb the use of force and improve accountability, such as requiring officers to wear body cameras. Yet federal law enforcement has remained largely exempt from those kinds of rules. Federal police typically don’t identify members who shoot or kill people. Unlike their local counterparts, they rarely hold news conferences on officer use-of-force incidents or take questions. That makes it almost impossible for loved ones of those killed in encounters with federal police to understand a person’s last moments and for the public to scrutinize police tactics or the conduct of individual officers.
The Washington Post

editorials & opinion
Are there politicians today that aren’t on Twitter? Not too many. Twitter has emerged as the center for immediate online political discourse, and politicians know that they can reach reporters, journalists, their fellow public officials and their constituents with one tweet. Critically, they can reach these audiences immediately and without many of the traditional forms of gatekeeping of television or print media. While Twitter is the newest form of political communication, it is only the latest in a long history of technological innovations utilized by politicians to influence political debate.
Lindsay Chervinsky, Governing