Transparency News 7/18/13


Thursday, July 18, 2013
State and Local Stories


In 1993, Ken Cuccinelli entered the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves under a program to train future officers for a career as a military lawyer. But two years later, he resigned his commission after serving just a few weeks on active duty – never having completed all of the training requirements he initially signed up for. Since entering public life as a state senator more than a decade ago, Cuccinelli, now Virginia’s attorney general, has generally downplayed his short-lived military career. It is not mentioned in his campaign bio, and when addressing it Cuccinelli has said the U.S. Marine Corps discharged him because it had no use for him after he completed law school. However, a document obtained by The Virginian-Pilot, which Cuccinelli’s Virginia Attorney General’s Office twice declined to release under open records requests, suggests the story may not be that simple.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has found a way to defray part of his monthly real estate expenses on the millions in property he owns -- by renting his western Henrico home to his hand-picked state health commissioner. Dr. Cynthia C. Romero, who took over as state health commissioner in January, has been renting the McDonnells' $835,000 home in the tony Wyndham residential community, a McDonnell spokesman confirmed. The details of the rental agreement were unclear. Based on the current mortgage rate and loan for the property, a mortgage payment would be about $2,800 per month.

Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the wealthy nutritional supplement maker at the center of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s gifts scandal, met with Virginia’s health secretary to pitch his product at the recommendation of the governor, according to an e-mail his assistant wrote the day of the November 2010 meeting.
Washington Post

The Social Security numbers of 18,700 University of Virginia students appeared on the address labels of health insurance brochures mailed across the country in the latest in a string of breaches at the state’s flagship university. The school provided the numbers along with other information to Aetna Health Care, which sent open-enrollment brochures to students’ homes through a third-party mail vendor, officials said.

Proceedings to remove an Isle of Wight County School Board member from office over racial jokes he forwarded in emails were put on hold Wednesday. Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney Phil Ferguson said there weren't enough valid signatures on the petition to get rid of Herbert DeGroft and asked for a nonsuit, which allows a petition to be refiled. Ferguson's office is handling the case in Isle of Wight Circuit Court. Byron "Buzz" Bailey, a member of the county's Board of Supervisors, faces an Aug. 12 hearing on a similar petition to remove him from office over the emails made public earlier this year. Bailey and DeGroft have apologized but said they wouldn't resign.

Depression-era land records that included notes on family histories on local properties were tossed out by Albemarle County officials in an effort to save space, officials said. Local historians say the records, compiled by workers for the Works Progress Administration, were often used by modern-day researchers interested in determining how properties were used and who lived there. The records were discarded in May in an effort to conserve space in county offices, said Lee Catlin, Albemarle County spokeswoman. “We were making efforts to look at how we could reduce the number of records and increase space for our offices and we discussed with the state what we needed to retained and what could be discarded,” Catlin said. “We followed those guidelines closely. The [Albemarle Charlottesville] Historical Society and [Albemarle County] Historic Preservation Committee feel those records had additional historic value, however.”
Daily Progress

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors has established a special disciplinary committee Tuesday to investigate complaints that would be brought against board members. The committee, proposed by Board Chairman Marshall Ecker, would address public spats like the one that occurred between Ecker and Westover Supervisor Coy Harville during a board meeting July 1. But one supervisor questions whether the committee is legal and has asked the county attorney to get an opinion from Virginia’s attorney general. Barber,  called the committee’s establishment “a violation of my freedom of speech” and a power grab by the chairman.
Register & Bee

A judge has dismissed misdemeanor charges against a Pennsylvania man accused of throwing away Virginia voter registration forms. Colin Small, 23, of Phoenixville, Pa., was charged in October 2012 with four misdemeanor counts of destroying voter registration forms, eight related felony counts of disclosing Social Security numbers and misdemeanor obstruction of justice.
News Leader

Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne Wednesday morning denied a petition filed by the attorney for Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R) to grant an injunction that would prevent the Board of Supervisors from voting tonight to impose disciplinary penalties on the four-term Sterling District representative.
Loudoun Times-Mirror
Following three hours of debate Wednesday night, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors formally voted to censure Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio, stripping him of committee assignments for the rest of his term, eliminating his staff aide positions and restricting funding for his office operations. The actions came in response to a report issued by a special grand jury that spent five months investigating allegations of misconduct initially raised by a former staff aide. Among the allegations cited by supervisors in punishing the four-term supervisor were that he was abusive to staff members and used staff time and other county resources in campaign and fundraising activities.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

National Stories

In a 3-2 decision, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that a circuit judge should not have allowed the South Carolina Association of School Administrators to argue that open records requirements harmed its members' free speech rights. Charleston-area radio personality Rocky Disabato sued the association after it denied his open records request in 2009 on the basis it wasn't subject to the law. The association, whose members are public school boards and board members, gets public money, and Disabato — known on-air as "Rocky D" — argued it should therefore be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Kansas City Star

U.S. law enforcement agencies are using license plate scanners designed to track down criminals to build databases detailing the whereabouts of millions of U.S. drivers, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report released on Wednesday. The ACLU's new report summarized the advocacy group's 2012 investigation into the way law enforcement agencies collect and store data from license plate readers, which are typically installed alongside roads or on police cars. ACLU's review of documents from 38 states and Washington, D.C. found that the systems are also often used to log databases of information - photographs, plate numbers, time and location - gathered by the cameras over months or even years from all the passing cars, not just select ones.

Justice Samuel Alito Jr.'s latest financial disclosure report, publicly released Wednesday afternoon, offers some potential insight into why he recused in a handful of high-profile disputes. Alito's report, at 23 pages, details numerous investments and trusts that include Chevron Corp., AT&T, Verizon Communications, Pepsico and Abbott Laboratories, to name a few big-name companies. (The justice's previous report, covering 2011, ran only eight pages.) Alito last year didn’t participate in the high court's review in Chevron v. Naranjo, a dispute in which Ecuadorian natives are seeking damages against Chevron for allegedly polluting the environment. At the time, Chevron's attorneys, including Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's Theodore Boutrous, and attorneys for the plaintiffs, including Patton Boggs' James Tyrrell Jr., declined to speculate about Alito's recusal. The justice didn't offer an explanation.
Blog of LegalTimes

A significant portion of Iowa former Gov. Robert D. Ray’s papers will be loaned to Drake University and digitized for online use by the public in a partnership with state officials. The collaboration between Drake University and the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs was announced Tuesday at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines, where Ray’s papers are now housed. Ray, 84, who served as the state’s chief executive from 1969 through early 1983.
Des Moines Register

More than 3,200 license plates issued to local, state and federal agencies have a designation that allows them to avoid tickets from Iowa traffic cameras, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. A recent speeding incident involving Gov. Terry Branstad's state SUV inadvertently revealed how cities give a break to some government vehicles caught on red-light and speed cameras, which are increasingly being used to enforce traffic laws and generate revenue. Several cities said they would not issue tickets to the drivers of Branstad's or some other government vehicles that have a special designation in which their plates are not in police databases. Iowa Department of Transportation data requested by the AP under public records law shows that more than 350 agencies have been issued at least one license plate with that designation, which is supposed to be for undercover or sensitive work.
Des Moines Register

Many of technology's most prominent companies will reportedly join civil liberties groups on Thursday in calling for dramatically increased transparency regarding U.S. government surveillance activities. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are part of an alliance signing a letter to be published Thursday that calls on President Barack Obama and Congress to allow Internet and telecommunications companies to offer more details about U.S. government requests for user information, according to an AllThingsD report.

As President Barack Obama and members of Congress seek to soothe a frenzy over unchecked government surveillance, they’ve held up an obscure federal watchdog nicknamed PCLOB as a remedy. But if the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is going to emerge as a strong, independent check on the National Security Agency and its much-maligned programs, it first has some growing up to do.


Daily Progress: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has declared that the new law concealing concealed firearms permits is retroactive. Now, there might be fair reasons to apply the July 1 law to those who already have concealed firearms permits, rather than only to those who obtain permits after the law’s effective date. Doing so would prevent the creation of two classes of permit holders, each treated differently. It likely will be highly popular with Second Amendment advocates. But the same reasoning — making a law retroactive only because the General Assembly did not specifically order otherwise — may just as easily be applied to other legislation (for example, legislation tightening restrictions on gifts to top state elected officials).

Brian Schoeneman, Bearing Drift: One thing the McDonnell gift kerfluffle has highlighted is the need for a comprehensive review of our conflicts of interest laws, primarily the gift rules and disclosure requirements. So what’s wrong with the current system?  As the McDonnell issues have highlighted,  the gift disclosure requirements are focused solely on the legislator, not their family.  They gift requirements also only deal with gifts, not things like loans (which can easily become gifts if they aren’t repaid).  Disclosure is only required on a yearly basis, so there’s no way to hold someone immediately accountable for gifts they’ve received if they’re win the current calendar year and nobody has reported yet. So here’s my proposal:

Vivian Paige, Virginian-Pilot: The scandal surrounding Gov. Bob McDonnell has taught us at least one thing. I doubt many Virginians remain unaware of the state's campaign finance disclosure laws. There are no limits on either gifts or contributions as long as the items are disclosed. Of course, there is no mechanism for making sure that everything is disclosed, other than the ethics of the individual - and the prying eyes of the public. Unfortunately, our ability to review financial reports for candidates in those races is severely limited.