Transparency News 7/25/13


Thursday, July 25, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Hanover County Board of Supervisors plans to ask the Virginia General Assembly to modify the state’s open meeting laws to allow small groups of public officials to meet without notice. Hanover Board Chairman W. Canova Peterson IV has proposed an amendment to the state’s Freedom of Information Act that would allow three or more members to meet and discuss public business without triggering the requirement that the public be notified of the date, time and place. The Hanover board on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution in support of the change, adding it to the county’s legislative agenda for the 2014 General Assembly session.

James City County Supervisor Jim Kennedy said Wednesday that he suspects the supervisors violated Virginia's open government laws by discussing policy in closed session during the county administrator's reviewTuesday night. Other supervisors disagree. Kennedy said he was "uncomfortable" that the issue of keeping backyard chickens was discussed in a closed session dedicated to County Administrator Robert Middaugh's performance evaluation.
Daily Press

The Virginia Supreme Court operates in silence, denying public access to audio recordings of its oral arguments. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, which denies video recordings but allows audio recordings, the commonwealth's top appeals court has a complete blackout on public access to proceedings. In a written response to questions from Connection Newspapers, the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court explained that audio records were once public, but the installation of new equipment in January 2008 created new concerns for justices. #"The new digital recording equipment is more sensitive so that the recordings now include any confidential comments any justice makes to another justice during the oral argument," wrote Katya Herndon, director of legislative and public relations for the Office of the Executive Secretary. "Accordingly, the recordings, which are for the internal use of the justices, are no longer made available to the public."
Alexandria Gazette Packet

Gov. Bob McDonnell says he has repaid $124,000 in loans from a wealthy Virginia businessman, but what remains unclear is whether the governor also plans to reimburse his benefactor for tens of thousands of dollars in gifts given to his family.
Washington Times

A Charlottesville newspaper is apologizing about a published racist rant and is changing its policy for printing reader comments. C-Ville Weekly's editor Giles Morris says the paper is starting a new policy that sexist, racist, or hate rants will not run in the paper. In an email to NBC29, the editor said the new policy is as follows: "The Rant is a verbatim transcription of callers' comments, with little exception. Rants that are sexist, racist, or in any way espouse points of view motivated by hate will not run in the paper. Names of specific businesses and individuals are blanked. The views expressed in The Rant are strictly the callers', and do not reflect the policy or opinion of C-VILLE Weekly."

National Stories

The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.  But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn’t have the technology. "There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

Enforcement of a Kentucky law forbidding out-of-state psychologists from practicing in the state will be delayed after a Friday meeting between the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology and advice columnist John Rosemond. The meeting came after Rosemond, 65, sued the psychology board in U.S. District Court in Frankfort on July 16, claiming the board attempted to censor his work in violation of his First Amendment rights. The Attorney General's office sent Rosemond a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of the psychology board in February, asking him to stop all publication of his column in the state of Kentucky. - Senior Attorney Paul Sherman at the Arlington-based Institute of Justice, a group that has filed in many occupational-licensing censorship cases and is currently representing Rosemond, said his client has a First Amendment right to refer to himself as a psychologist, just as Sherman and his colleagues can publish an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that identifies them as lawyers.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A deeply divided House defeated legislation that would have blocked the National Security Agency from collecting vast amounts of phone records, handing the Obama administration a hard-fought victory in the first Congressional showdown over the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities since Edward J. Snowden’s security breaches last month. The 205-to-217 vote was far closer than expected and came after a brief but impassioned debate over citizens’ right to privacy and the steps the government must take to protect national security.
New York Times

Mark Kessler, police chief of Gilberton, Penn., insists it's his First Amendment right to post videosshowing him shooting weapons, calling opponents "libtards," and criticizing Secretary of State John Kerry.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office is looking into how much access Bloomberg LP news reporters may have had to information about the media and technology company's customers, said people familiar with the inquiries. Officials in the New York Attorney General's investor protection unit in recent weeks have queried Bloomberg about reporters' knowledge of terminal subscribers' activities, said the people. The Attorney General's office hasn't opened a formal investigation into the Bloomberg practices, said one of the people familiar with the probe.
Wall Street Journal


Virginian-Pilot: Gov. Bob McDonnell has made a mess, and he knows it. This week, he took a welcome and necessary step toward making things right. He must do more. McDonnell still must provide a full accounting of the gifts that he and his family have received during his tenure. And he should return those gifts and spend the remaining months of his otherwise successful term leading Virginia's efforts to amend porous disclosure and campaign finance laws that have enabled the current mess.

Daily Progress: Bob McDonnell is not a political novice; he should have foreseen the problems such entanglements would pose. And he cannot fully pass that responsibility off to family members. His silence on the matter — other than the rigid “I did nothing wrong” — finally is beginning to dissolve. His recent apology is tame, and his statement about discussing the gifts in the future is less firm than we might like, but they do indicate movement in the right direction. Virginians may yet get at least some of the answers they seek.

News & Advance: Tuesday, Gov. Bob McDonnell finally — finally — said the words Virginians have been waiting to hear from him for months: “I am deeply sorry for the embarrassment certain members of my family and I brought upon my beloved Virginia and her citizens.” Well, he (or one of his taxpayer-funded private attorneys) wrote them for a statement released to the news media. There’s no actual video of the governor uttering “I am deeply sorry ... .” Not that any of it would really matter, for the governor’s apology, plus his repayment to Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams of two loans totalling more than $124,000 in principal and interest is too little and way too late to salvage either his personal or political reputation.

Dan Bevarly: The discussion or argument that government would be more efficient if it were run like a business has been around for decades. It is a particularly hot topic in times of fiscal austerity, which we certainly seem to be living. The biggest flaw to this argument is that government cannot be run like a business because it was never structured to be one or act like one. Instead of arguing the pros and cons of running government like a business,  the discussion we should be having on this topic is about what structures, processes and practices can be instilled to run a successful organization or enterprise whether its private or public,  business or a government agency. We all know these attributes. They address efficiency, communication, best practices, talent, understanding of goals, objectives and responsibilities, metrics and so on.

Hilton Head Island Packet: The S.C. Supreme Court has strengthened the state's open records law with a ruling that organizations cannot invoke free speech rights as a first line of defense against releasing information about their activities. The S.C. School Administrators Association had pointed to the First Amendment in denying a records request, saying its ability to advocate for its members would be hurt if it had to open up its meetings and records to the public. In the ruling, the court reiterated the key role the Freedom of Information Act plays in ensuring open and transparent government in a democracy. The court quotes James Madison: "A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." That point makes all the more injurious many government entities' efforts to sidestep the law whenever possible rather than abide by it.

Los Angeles Times: In ruling that a New York Times reporter must testify at the trial of a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information, a federal appeals court has adopted a scorched-earth approach to claims that reporters have a right to protect their sources. If the Obama administration persists in its attempt to force James Risen to violate a pledge of confidentiality, the Supreme Court should intervene to protect him.