Transparency News 7/15/19



July 15, 2019


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state & local news stories


If you're shopping on Prime Day, start by going to Amazon Smilefirst and selecting the Virginia Coalition for Open Government as your charity. A percentage of your purchase goes to VCOG! We also have a wish list of everyday office supplies.

A decade after his arrival at Virginia Commonwealth University, President Michael Rao is a million-dollar man. Rao, 52, earned more than $1 million in total compensation in the past year, putting him at the top of the state salaries database compiled by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained state employees’ names, job titles and salaries using the state’s Freedom of Information statute. The FOI request for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2018, and ended June 30, 2019, is part of The Times-Dispatch’s ongoing effort to report on government spending and use of taxpayer money.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two days after Amherst Town Council voted to remove an elected member from its ranks, some area residents are criticizing the move they said undermines the electoral process while town officials in a statement called the matter a “difficult decision.” In a statement Friday issued through Town Manager Sara Carter, the town said: “This decision was not made lightly, or quickly, or without understanding how serious and difficult this would be. While we understand the confusion and concern on the part of the voters, and the desire for an explanation, one cannot be offered. To do so would violate the requirements of the closed session and the Code of the Ethics of the Council.”  The statement said while council strives for transparency, it wishes “to speak only in ways that promote the common public interest of our beautiful town.”
The News & Advance

A former aide to Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, has filed a federal lawsuit accusing Adams of "hacking" into her personal email records to delete files related to work the aide performed for Adams' medical consulting business. Maureen Hains, who worked as Adams' campaign manager in 2017 and was later hired as her legislative aide, filed the suit Thursday. The suit, first reported by Courthouse News, seeks $550,000 in damages and accuses Adams of violating state and federal computer fraud and privacy laws.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia Beach officials have charged a city employee with disturbing the peace after she told a manager the gunman from the mass shooting probably snapped because of supervisors like her. Four city employees, including the manager, also took out protective orders against Elizabeth Mann, 48, who was fired a week later from her role in the Human Services Department, where she helped investigate reports of adult abuse or neglect. She said she worked for the city since 2003. Mann asked to speak freely [at a staff meeting], according to a partial recording of the meeting that she provided to The Virginian-Pilot. "I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t detect any sincerity from you at all, Wendy. You are exactly the same type of supervisor that probably pushed this guy to do that."
The Virginian-Pilot

Christiansburg Town Council members are finding what they say can quickly turn into a bill after talking to a contracted attorney. And so the council formed a committee tasked with crafting clearer policies and procedures for the elected body’s consultations with its attorney. A recent case that shed light on the matter involved councilman Steve Huppert, who cost the town $115 on May 28 after he briefly spoke with attorney Mark Popovich about editorials provided to media by elected officials. Huppert said he misunderstood that his encounter with the attorney constituted a legal consultation. The councilman later apologized during a public discussion with the council on the matter.
The Roanoke Times


stories of national interest

For the second time in three months, city lawyers have mistakenly turned over documents about the NYPD’s facial recognition program to academic researchers and are asking a judge to order the information returned. The NYPD paperwork recently handed over to the Georgetown Center on Privacy and Technology included names and case numbers of people who were run through the facial recognition system, city attorney Jeffrey Dantowitz said in a hearing Tuesday. The documents were marked for redaction but accidentally sent to the researchers. Justice Shlomo Hagler was surprised by the mishap — because the city made the same mistake in April. In that instance, the judge ordered researchers at Georgetown to return 20 pages of confidential information to the NYPD. He was not inclined to make the decision a second time.
New York Daily News

Connecticut Citizens who seek videos from police body cameras, which state law identifies as public information, may find themselves trapped in a maze of dead-ends, fees, redactions and refusals. All of those were among the responses when The Sunday Republican made Freedom of Information requests to police departments across the state last December. Seven months later, only two of 11 departments contacted who have body cameras — Wolcott and Watertown — fully complied.One, Naugatuck, provided partial footage. That wasn’t the kind of police-public relationship envisioned last year when state police announced that 800 troopers who patrol the state’s roads and highways would be equipped with body-worn cameras. Then-Commissioner Dora B. Schriro said police departments across the country were striving to build trust and foster transparency.
Republican American


quote_2.jpg"The judge ordered researchers at Georgetown to return 20 pages of confidential information to the NYPD. He was not inclined to make the decision a second time."


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"Refusal of accountability in the face of tragedy after tragedy is unacceptable."

ON JUNETEENTH, the oldest annual celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, we attended a regular board meeting of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail Authority. We wanted to urge the board to report what it is doing to comply with a 47-page notice from the U.S. Department of Justice in December that its practices are unconstitutional and must change. We are unaware of any public board discussion about the DOJ report or the jail’s record of troubling deaths. Board minutes only note discussion of a possible public relations strategy to push back against negative press. If that’s true and the DOJ report is off the mark, let’s hear some specifics. At the June 19 board meeting, however, Geis, who is deputy city manager in Chesapeake, refused to allow us to request those details, saying it “would not be fruitful” for us to speak. Then the board voted to meet behind closed doors for an hour and a half over our objections that the closure wasn’t legal. Refusal of accountability in the face of tragedy after tragedy is unacceptable. We call on the board to open its posture and hold a public hearing on the DOJ report.
James Boyd and Bill Farrar, The Virginian-Pilot