Transparency News 7/16/18



July 16, 2018


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state & local news stories


"While police in states such as Ohio routinely release 911 audio, video, and the full names and personnel records of officers who shoot people, police in Virginia typically don’t."

The long legal battle over whether the General Assembly’s 2011 redistricting packed African Americans into 11 House of Delegates districts in a way that diluted voting power hasn’t come cheap. Now on its way, for the second time, to the U.S. Supreme Court, the cost to taxpayers for the House’s intervention in the case has already reached $4,067,098.03, according to Speaker Kirk Cox’s office. .(In addition, the Attorney General spent $877,000 defending the state Board of Elections, which was the entity that voters actually sued; its last payment was made in 2015.)
Daily Press

Virginia Beach announced this week that after searching for almost a year, it had hired a director to lead the department in charge of the state’s only aquarium, located near the Oceanfront. But legal obstacles and an internal investigation into discrimination made hiring for the position a difficult and costly endeavor, The Virginian-Pilot discovered from records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Cynthia Whitbred-Spanoulis was chosen to lead the city’s department of Aquarium and Historic Houses, which oversees the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, located off General Booth Boulevard. The aquarium, which opened in 1986, has more than 10,000 animals and draws nearly 700,000 visitors a year. But Whitbred-Spanoulis wasn’t the city’s first choice for the job – it was a man from the Vancouver Aquarium. Before Whitbred-Spanoulis was hired, the city spent at least $22,000 in taxpayer money to investigate the discrimination complaint, and lost its preferred candidate after he was unable to obtain a work visa, The Pilot learned from documents obtained through FOIA. 
The Virginian-Pilot

A veteran social services administrator named to lead Rockbridge area’s troubled child welfare agency said Friday he’s no longer a candidate for the position. That revelation came after questions from The Roanoke Times and local residents about his professional and financial past. Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services officials named Andre Chambers director of the agency on Monday, Board Chairman Duaine Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald could not be reached to comment on Chambers’ statement that he is no longer coming to Rockbridge County. Two candidates, including Chambers, proceeded to interview privately with the entire board July 3. Fitzgerald would not comment on why Chambers was selected over other candidates.
The Roanoke Times

The felony fraud and forgery trial of Portsmouth Councilman Mark Whitaker is set to begin this morning with jury selection in Circuit Court. Whitaker, an assistant pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, stands charged with two counts of identity fraud, seven counts of “uttering a forged check” and 11 counts of forgery. He has pleaded not guilty.
The Virginian-Pilot

Police on Wednesday denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The Winchester Star for the recording of the 911 call made by shooting suspect Scott Bradley Garthwaite as well as any records, reports, audio or video pertaining to the July 2 shooting in which police said Bradley was wounded by an officer after shooting at police. Capt. Leonard Bauserman, who handles FOIA requests, said in an email that the rejection was because the case is under investigation. Police also wouldn’t provide the personnel file and hiring date of the officer who shot Garthwaite. Police wouldn’t give her full name, identifying her as A. Warren and saying she was hired a little more than a year ago. While police in states such as Ohio routinely release 911 audio, video, and the full names and personnel records of officers who shoot people, police in Virginia typically don’t. Bill Farrar, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union Virginia chapter, said the reason for the difference is that Virginia has a “Swiss cheese” FOIA law.
The Winchester Star

Three college students are learning the intricacies of local government through paid – $10 per hour – internships in the Warren County Government Center. Warren County Planning Director Taryn Logan said several departments implemented the intern program about five years ago. She said while the students become familiar with the functions of local government, the departments get help streamlining tasks they would like to finish but do not have time to do so.
The Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

A federal judge ordered The Los Angeles Times to remove information from a published article on Saturday, a step that legal experts said was extremely unusual and conflicted with the First Amendment. The newspaper said it was appealing the order. The article, published Saturday morning, described a plea agreement between prosecutors and a police narcotics detective in Glendale, Calif., who was accused of colluding with a Mexican crime syndicate. Before the article was published, a lawyer for John Sara Balian told editors at the newspaper that doing so would put his family at risk. The newspaper decided to publish, and a few hours later, it received the court’s order. By 5 p.m. Saturday, it had complied by removing any references from the sealed document, although the article still made clear there had been a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
The New York Times

At the beginning of the year, we asked ProPublica Illinois readers what they wanted to know about how we do our work. Thoughtful, challenging questions have been rolling in ever since, and we’ve been answering them in an occasional series of columns. In this dispatch, data reporter Sandhya Kambhampati answers a question about the Freedom of Information Act.
ProPublica Illinois

A Denver Post investigation published this week sheds light on thousands of Colorado court cases suppressed by district judges over the last five years. The investigation counts 6,700 cases that have been suppressed since 2013. Three-thousand of these cases remain under lock and key, including 345 felony criminal cases of which no public record even exists. Since April 1, more than 268 felony cases have been suppressed around the state, with Arapahoe County leading the way with 87 such cases.
Courthouse News

As a non-profit corporation the Camden-Wyoming (Delaware) Fire Company is not subject to state open records laws, the Delaware Attorney General’s Office ruled late last month. The opinion written on June 29 came in response to an allegation that the fire company violated the Delaware Freedom of Information Act when it did not provide requested audio of an April 23 Board of Directors meeting to a citizen. Chris Dufresne filed a complaint with the AG on June 18, the day that the fire company’s legal counsel claimed that the entity was not a public body.
Delaware State News

Chicago police on Sunday released a snippet of video of a fatal police shooting less than a day after it sparked violent clashes between officers and protesters on the South Side. The footage, taken from an officer's body-worn camera, appears to show Harith Augustus, 37, a barber, break away from officers and move his hand toward his waistband. He was shot dead in the street by police. At a news conference Sunday afternoon at police headquarters, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he released the video so swiftly in hopes of avoiding a repeat of violent clashes Saturday night between baton-wielding officers and protesters, some of whom lobbed bottles at officers, in the South Shore neighborhood where the shooting took place.



"By 5 p.m. Saturday, it had complied by removing any references from the sealed document, although the article still made clear there had been a plea agreement with federal prosecutors."


editorials & columns


"Cities and counties are closer to people and more directly affect their daily lives."

George Mason University in Northern Virginia is named for a statesman from this commonwealth who was so dedicated to the ideals of personal freedom and transparency that he served as the primary author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a landmark document that would have a profound influence on both our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. How sadly ironic then, that student groups seeking transparency at our state’s largest public university have been told – first by their school, and more recently by a judge – that they have no right to see important information pertaining to the education they are receiving. The ruling in circuit court is a misguided application of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, and if it stands it could have an impact on any schools – such as The College of William and Mary and other local institutions – that have separate fundraising foundations.
Daily Press

Transparency in spending is a necessary function of government, a principle of public service that should be honored reliably. The more data we have about spending, the more informed we will be in our choices as voters, as activists for beloved causes or as public servants charged with being accountable to citizens. If that data reveals problems, then we can work to fix them. If it confirms that the state is careful in its spending and protective of our interests, then we can enjoy greater confidence in our government. In this, Virginia should strive for better than a mere C.
The Daily Progress

Hundreds of calls to public service are not being answered, or remain open, in cities and counties across Virginia. Local governments routinely try to fill thousands of volunteer positions on boards and commissions that offer opportunities to serve communities, yet find many go begging for local residents to step up and apply for them. The local level of government is the least taught level in our schools. When people think of government, Congress and the White House get the lion’s share of attention. Yet, cities and counties are closer to people and more directly affect their daily lives, providing more services from roads to schools to economic opportunities.
Bob Gibson, The Roanoke Times