Transparency News 7/17/17

Monday, July 17, 2017

State and Local Stories

July 1 was the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Office of the State Inspector General and the end of a tough year for the independent watchdog. Cybersecurity at state executive branch agencies is high on the list of priorities for the office in this fiscal year under a plan submitted to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who made the protection of information technology a centerpiece of his efforts as chairman of the National Governors Association in the past year.  The audit, aimed at a sampling of about 20 executive branch agencies, comes as the state attempts to disentangle itself from a 13-year, $2.3 billion contract with Northrop Grumman and replace it with a series of agreements with multiple vendors.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The final offers came in from the vendors competing to provide medical services for the Norfolk City Jail. Only, they weren’t so final. Correct Care Solutions, a Nashville-based company that had held the contract for years, submitted a bid around $200,000 higher per year than one of its competitors. Here’s what happened next, according to a former sheriff’s official with direct knowledge of the competition for the multimillion-dollar contract: In a private meeting, then-Sheriff Bob McCabe suggested contacting Correct Care to alert the company to the price difference. A high-ranking staffer in the meeting cautioned McCabe that such a call would be inappropriate, according to The Virginian-Pilot’s source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Norfolk city code prohibits the disclosure of any information about competing offers, and such behavior would run contrary to federal public corruption laws.

A member of Waynesboro City Council said Friday there is little the city could have done to prevent the Ku Klux Klan from spending time at a city picnic shelter last weekend prior to the group’s rally in Charlottesville. Waynesboro Vice Mayor Terry Short noted that the Constitution, in particular the First Amendment, gave the group the right to occupy the shelter for several hours Saturday at Coyner Springs Park.
News Virginian

Following the revelation that Altavista EMS was cited by Virginia’s Office of Emergency Medical Services in May, the Altavista Police Department announced Friday it has been investigating several individuals associated with Altavista EMS since January. The announcement of the existence of the investigation comes on the heels of the accidental release of preliminary investigation notes, which contain sensitive and misleading information, Milnor said. The document inadvertently was released to a community member by the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services in a Freedom of Information Act request.
News & Advance

National Stories

Beginning in January, Michigan will have rules in place for the disclosure and retention of audio or video recordings from body cameras worn by police officers. Legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder Wednesday exempts the recordings from public-records request under certain circumstances, including if the recordings were made in a "private place." Recordings also will be kept private during ongoing criminal or internal investigations but only for listed reasons such as public disclosure interfering with law enforcement proceedings or invading personal privacy.
Detroit Free Press

A New York judge has ordered Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office to turn over to The New York Times documents related to a corruption investigation of former state officials and upstate contractors that it has withheld for the last year. The decision, issued last week but filed with the Albany County Clerk’s office on Thursday, compels the governor’s office to release, within 45 days, schedules, email and other records requested by The Times under New York’s Freedom of Information law. The Cuomo administration had fought to keep the documents secret on multiple grounds, including that disclosing them might compromise the criminal investigation.
New York Times

The presidential commission investigating alleged election fraud has released 112 pages of unredacted emails of public comment, raising further privacy concerns amid a legal challenge to the panel's request for sensitive voter data. In many cases, the emails, which are largely critical and often mocking of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity led by Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, contain expletives as well as the sender's email address.


Last week, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne outlined a number of steps the Peninsula Airport Commission must take in order to again qualify for state funding. These would require the commission to operate with greater transparency, including the appointment of a Freedom of Information officer and FOIA instruction for the board, and conflict of interest training. “We need to rebuild public trust,” Layne said. “That is paramount going forward.” These may seem like modest, even obvious, expectations, but they should help build a stronger foundation for the airport’s operations in the future. There is also a plan for paying back the state money, one that should not financially cripple the airport. But the primary lesson is this: Those who serve in public office should view transparency as an obligation — even an opportunity — rather than a burden.

Some things are so blatantly obvious that they shouldn't need to be explained at all. More often than not, there comes a point where we have to explain them anyway. State transportation secretary Aubrey Layne said the obvious this week. He said it because, apparently, it needed to be said. He told the members of the commission that they need to be accountable, both individually and collectively. That when you are given the responsibility of spending the public's money, you cannot cavalierly blur (or fully erase) the line that separates business and personal expenditures.
Daily Press

There’s been immense debate over whether members of the public — or, for that matter, the media — have any right to take photographs of police officers in public. Fortunately, courts have continued to weigh in on the matter. And the answer, in case after case, is yes.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

If ever there were a more important time in the last half-century to lift up Americans’ First Amendment right to free speech, it’s today. It’s a foundation stone of our democratic republic, but one that is under increasing stress with each passing day. Richard Spencer, the alt-right founder, is planning another rally next month, and already there is trepidation about what could transpire. Let him exercise his right to free speech, though it’s ugly hate speech. Let his opponents rally against him, but peacefully. We can’t let the First Amendment become the victim of mobs, on either the left or the right.
News & Advance

EACH OF US should be thankful for our Virginia Beach City Council’s common-sense decision to oppose offshore drilling. The heralded resolution was passed in June. However, there is more for the council to consider. Easier but important actions remain to be tackled in this realm. For instance, there is not a single ledger entry in our city budget specifically listing our collective electricity expenditure. Therefore, the public cannot determine the total amount our city government spends on electricity. Council could wait for Freedom of Information Act requests, but why not simply make it available in the published budget? Citizens should know how much the city spends on electricity and what the city is doing to update and improve its energy infrastructure.
J. Bryan Plumlee, Virginian-Pilot