Transparency News 7/24/13


Wednesday, July 24, 2013
State and Local Stories


After the Supreme Court's April ruling that Virginia's citizenship hurdle did not violate constitutional protections, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council issued a brief memo urging agencies across the Commonwealth to fulfill all records requests without distinction between in-state and out-of-state requesters. The FOIA Council, a legislative advisory body whose decisions are non-binding, proposed two reasons for treating all requesters equally: "(1) it provides for internal consistency in responding to requests, and (2) if you deny a request because the requester is not from Virginia, all the requester has to do is get a Virginia citizen to make the same request on his or her behalf." Despite such clear advice from state records authorities, agencies in both Tennessee and Virginia continue to lean on citizenship requirements that bar requests from non-residents. While each agency has discretion to side with openness, a number stubbornly maintain that requesters outside their borders have no right to government transparency.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says more than $120,000 in loan principal and interest that his wife and business received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams has “been repaid in full.” In a statement, the Republican apologized for causing the state embarrassment and said he had not broken the law.

Virginia residents can now register to vote – or update their information – with a few clicks of a mouse. The Virginia Board of Elections has launched an online voter registration system in which eligible residents can submit a voter registration application or update their information.

The Charlottesville Weekly newspaper is apologizing for a profane, racist rant that appeared in its publication after dozens protested outside its offices. Editor Giles Morris apologized to dozens of protesters who gathered at the newspaper on Monday. He said a written apology would appear in Tuesday's newspaper.  Media outlets report that the comment appeared in The Rant, a section of the newspaper that publishes anonymous voicemail messages. The comment used profanities and criticized blacks for asking for free food at restaurants. Jeff Winder helped organize Monday's protest. He says about 40 people showed up to express dismay at the newspaper. Winder says an apology isn't enough. He and others want the newspaper to discontinue the anonymous comment section.

The Virginia Port Authority Board of Commissioners on Monday opened a two-week window to interview candidates to lead the third-busiest port on the East Coast. Since the departure of Jerry Bridges in late September, the VPA has operated under the direction of an interim chief. But Monday marked a concrete step toward finding a new top executive. During a meeting at the Northern Virginia offices of VPA board member Scott Bergeron, a subset of commissioners on a special search committee announced the start of the interview period. VPA spokesman Joe Harris said there is little he can say about the executive search for now. "There's not a lot to report at this point," he said.
Daily Press

Aiming for more transparency in its justice system, the Navy on Monday published results of 135 military court proceedings it held during the first six months of 2013, part of its plan to increase awareness and reduce the incidence of sexual assault. It lists every special and general court-martial convened in the Navy during those six months, not just those involving sex charges. Of the 135 total, 33 originated from Norfolk. The list can be viewed at the It includes the ranks but not the names of the defendants.
Daily Press

When John Capomaggi answered his phone at about 3 a.m. Tuesday, he assumed it had to do with his aging parents. He had been asleep and, in his groggy state, assumed the worst. "At 3 in the morning here, it's midnight in California where my family lives. It definitely got my heart rate up," said Capomaggi, a Lake Christopher resident. Instead, the voice on the other line was an automated message from VBAlert, a reverse 911 system designed to provide residents with public safety and emergency information. The message said police were looking for a 12-year-old girl who was last seen in the Lake Christopher area at 10 p.m. The message did not mention that police believe she ran away - first with friends - then with a 14- or 15-year-old boyfriend, said Grazia Moyers, a police spokeswoman. "I'm not sure why the reverse 911 went out," Moyers said Tuesday. "If we feel this is something suspicious or someone is in danger, we do the reverse 911 calls. If we did it for runaways, we'd be waking up the city every night."

A Fairfax County police officer who initially asked for the public’s assistance in locating a car that he said hit him, causing him to crash into a utility pole before leaving the scene of the accident, has now been accused of fabricating the incident. Carl Joseph Biggs, who has been employed by the Fairfax County Police Department for two years, has been charged with hit-and-run and filing a false police report, has been placed on administrative leave.
Fairfax Times

National Stories

A police photographer who released photos of the arrest of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in reaction to a magazine cover that he said glorified the suspect has beenplaced on desk duty pending an internal investigation, state police said on Tuesday. Sergeant Sean Murphy was placed on administrative leave, stripped of his badge and gun, and transferred to a different unit within the state police following a disciplinary hearing, the Massachusetts State Police said in a statement. Murphy will remain on leave while an investigation determines whether he violated department rules, police spokesman Dave Procopio said, adding that the probe "is expected to take several weeks to complete at a minimum."

The U.S. Defense Department is proposing to share some of its radio airwaves with the private sector, a nod to growing pressure from the wireless industry and the Obama administration that federal agencies ease their control of valuable spectrum.

The public doesn’t need to know what else lies hidden in the still-secret portion of ex-Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file, a judge has ruled. “While the common law and constitutional right of access to our courts are due great respect they do not outweigh the law enforcement privilege codified by our Legislature,” Senior Judge Walter Kurtz of Nashville wrote in an order filed Friday.
Bristol Herald Courier

Delaware officials defended their decision to look into the federal tax records of Christine O’Donnell, the tea party candidate who said she believes her confidential taxes were improperly accessed for political purposes after she declared her unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010. O’Donnell was warned in a January voicemail from U.S. Treasury Special Agent Dennis Martel that her “personal federal tax information may have been compromised and may have been misused by an individual” working in Delaware state government.
News Journal

David J. Gerleman, assistant editor of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln and Daniel W. Stowell, the Lincoln papers director, said Wednesday that, barring new funding, money for their archives research will run out in June, and their work there could stop well before then.
Washington Post

Local San Francisco television news station KTVU has embarked on a novel use of copyright law to cover up embarrassing footage. It has been issuing takedown notices to YouTube for videos showing its anchor literally reading fake names of pilots involved in the recent airline crash at San Francisco International Airport. Some of the YouTube videos, uploaded from last week’s newscast, leave behind a message: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by KTVU.” While many of the videos of the segment were still live on Google-owned YouTube, the reason why the Fox affiliate has been demanding their removal doesn’t concern copyright.

Just before launching, the New York bicycle-sharing program Citi Bike accidentally leaked the private account information of 1,174 of its customers, according to the Wall Street Journal. The data was exposed via a software glitch and included customers' names, contact information, credit card numbers and security codes, passwords, and birth dates.


Times-Dispatch: Yesterday Bob McDonnell’s private legal team announced that the governor had repaid about $120,000 in loans from Jonnie Williams Sr. He apologized for the embarrassment the situation had caused. This is a welcome step. Poor judgment put McDonnell in a position that stained his reputation. Indeed, the proceedings serve as a reminder that reputations resemble loans. They neither are conferred by divine right nor do they exist permanently. A good reputation persists only as long as the subject keeps his or her personal accounts in order.

Jeff Schapiro, Times-Dispatch: No longer defiant, McDonnell is contrite — a sign there may be more trouble ahead. Just because McDonnell is apologizing doesn’t mean the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, a federal grand jury in Richmond and the city’s prosecutor will drop their investigations. A master of reinvention, McDonnell is attempting to transform himself again. This time, he is shape-shifting from pariah to object of pity. He sounds like a man trying to get in front of bad news before it happens.

News Leader: While it was good at last to hear from you, governor, we notice you did not address the indictment you’re trying to avoid or the ethics laws that so obviously need strengthening. In the five months you hope to have remaining in office, we ask you for the following:

Virginian-Pilot: The outcry that accompanied last month's revelation that federal officials had been secretly collecting phone records of every Verizon customer, regardless of whether they were suspected of wrongdoing, appeared to galvanize a broad swath of politically disparate groups. Unfortunately, apathy soon replaced that outrage. Last week, federal officials capitalized on Americans' complacency, pursuing and receiving yet another extension from a secretive panel of complicit judges to continue building the database.

Daily Progress: In a community so devoted to history, it boggles the mind that Albemarle County would destroy 1930s-era records without considering that somebody might have wanted them, even if the county no longer did. Of course, Albemarle did nothing wrong. When purging old records to conserve space, it meticulously followed state rules. The state requires records created before January 1904 to be offered to the Library of Virginia before being thrown away. The library does not require records more recent than 1904 to be reviewed for historic value, however. But the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and Albemarle County Historic Preservation Committee say the records are valuable. They found out about the purge too late, however.

News & Advance: The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in this fall’s elections seems to be having a little trouble understanding the state campaign finance reporting regulations. For the second time in as many months, E.W. Jackson has submitted required campaign reports that fail to properly itemize individual contributors to his campaign. David Poole, executive director of VPAP, said there “have been candidates who saw the deadline approaching and turned in an incomplete report on time rather than get fined for being late. In these cases,” he said, “the question is always how long does it take for a candidate to amend the report so the public can get a full view of who is funding the campaign.” Jackson, an outspoken Chesapeake minister who gained the GOP’s nomination for lieutenant governor with help from the Virginia Tea Party, needs to tighten up his campaign fundraising reporting. Those rules, after all, were made for the benefit of the public whose votes he is soliciting.

Register & Bee: Just two of the Danville Police Department’s marked patrol cars have license plate readers. Those readers scoop up information — in this case, on license plates — that happen to be near the patrol car. It is an imprecise dragnet because the information it collects is based on the happenstance meeting of a car with one of those two police cars. But the issue those license plate readers has raised is ripped from the headlines, and it goes to the heart of the current debate abouthow a free society should allow its government to collect information about its citizens.

Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a tribunal that oversees government eavesdropping, is a strange judicial creation. It lacks many of the usual features of a court. Its proceedings are secret. Its rulings are secret. But the strangest missing piece of all is the absence of arguments from the other side. Most of the time, the only lawyers who appear are from the federal government, and they represent the agencies asking for approval to wiretap citizens, collect telephone records or compel Internet providers to turn over giant databases of emails. No wonder the government almost always wins.