Transparency News, 7/25/2022


July 25, 2022

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter
Contact us at


state & local news stories


"The whole legislative process is diminished when they go behind closed doors and make policy decisions."

Bodycam videos, police reports and other materials connected to the city of Richmond’s aggressive response to protesters in June 2020 have been made public through the Library of Virginia. The database that went live recently is part of a legal settlement between the city and plaintiffs who say police used excessive force against protesters who gathered at the Robert E. Lee statue two years ago in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Members of the public will be able to contribute their own footage of what occurred to the archive. 
Associated Press

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is withholding some of his public records regarding a news conference he held about an alleged foiled mass shooting plot. The Times-Dispatch on July 8 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Richmond Police Department and a second FOIA request to the mayor’s office to obtain correspondence related to the news conference, including emails, texts and notes. Richmond police told The Times-Dispatch that it would be charged $568.32 as a deposit for an IT employee to spend an estimated 12 hours searching for the records. The newspaper is negotiating with police about that request. The mayor’s office charged $54.61 for records. Stoney’s office opted not to disclose several documents, including two emails containing drafts of statements from the news conference, four text messages and one text message between the mayor and press secretary Jim Nolan. The mayor cited an exemption in Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act for executive working papers, one of about 150 discretionary records exemptions in the state’s open records act. The exemption allows elected officials to not make public documents that are for “personal or deliberative use.”
Richmond Times-Dispath
The purpose of a state budget is to divvy up funding among government agencies. But in many instances during the past legislative session, it was used to pass legislation that had otherwise died in the General Assembly. Legislating through the budget isn’t new and both sides of the aisle are guilty of it, but advocates for open government say it’s problematic because it cuts the public out of the legislative process. “They sometimes use it as an opportunity to get bills through without public discourse,” said Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, a nonprofit that advocates for governmental transparency. “The whole legislative process is diminished when they go behind closed doors and make policy decisions.” Both parties have legislated through the budget over the years, said Shawn Weneta, policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. But he thinks the problem is getting worse.
The Virginian-Pilot

A new statewide, searchable cold case database sparked a new lead in a 19-year-old murder investigation Friday. “I just got a tip,” Virginia State Police Special Agent Douglas Hubert said. “On the Dickie Palmer case, from the website.” Hubert’s latest tip, which came through the cold case database, is from someone who doesn’t want to remain anonymous to police. “They’ve given their information,” Hubert said. “They knew somebody who’s connected to it and is a potential suspect in the case.” The legislation that established the database passed through the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 and was signed into law. According to state code, the database is designed to “assist law-enforcement agencies in the development of information leading to the identification and arrest of persons who may have committed the crimes or to persons who may have relevant information to solve the case.”
The Roanoke Times

A judge in Virginia on Friday denied efforts to keep documents sealed in the case of a man with alleged neo-Nazi sympathies who is accused of killing his girlfriend’s parents. The ruling follows motions by The Washington Post and The Associated Press to access the records, citing the public’s interest and the news organizations’ constitutional rights. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Brett Kassabian said in court that his order won’t take effect for 10 days to give the defense and prosecution time to appeal. He was expected to issue a written ruling later. The documents’ pending release is expected to reveal more details from the yearslong prosecution of Nicholas Giampa, which has been shrouded in secrecy since the December 2017 shootings. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys argued that releasing the records could jeopardize the case.
Associated Press

Fairfax County police on Friday released body-camera footage that appears to show a man raising his hand, holding a gun, soon before officers shot and killed him last month in the parking lot of the Springfield Town Center. Officials played the footage at a news conference, as they revealed more details of the encounter that ended when officers fatally shot 37-year-old Christian Parker. Davis said that Parker’s family viewed the body-camera footage on Thursday. He said the two officers who fired their weapons are on an amended duty status while the investigation is ongoing.
The Washington Post

stories of national interest


"A request is considered backlogged when it has been pending at an agency longer than the statutory time to respond, which is typically 20 working days."


The federal Freedom of Information Act request backlog continued to rise in fiscal 2021, but FOIA offices were able to make a dent in the backlog of administrative appeals last year. The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) runs down the numbers in its analysis of agency chief FOIA officer fiscal 2021 reports. Agencies received 838,164 FOIA requests in fiscal 2021, a 6% increase above the total received in fiscal 2020. And the FOIA backlog increased by just over 8% to a total of 153,227 requests by the end of fiscal 2021. A request is considered backlogged when it has been pending at an agency longer than the statutory time to respond, which is typically 20 working days, but can be up to 30 working days in unusual circumstances.
Federal News Network

Election officials from 33 states, gathered for a conference under tight security, warned that the next few election cycles will be affected by paper shortages and the potential for threats from inside elections offices. The meeting of the National Association of State Elections Directors last week was held with stringent security precautions, given the ongoing threats and harassment faced by election officials across the country in the years since the 2020 election. Organizers didn’t publicly share the location of the meeting, and attendees were instructed to keep name badges visible inside the conference rooms, but not to wear them outside the hotel.
Virginia Mercury


editorials & columns


The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent decision in a public records dispute could have a dramatic impact on government transparency in the state, resulting in fewer requests for records and, as one dissenting justice put it, “a less informed electorate.” The question at the center of the case, Friends of Frame Park v. City of Waukesha, concerned the issue of attorneys’ fees — specifically, whether the government should be responsible for paying them when a records requestor’s lawsuit leads an agency to turn over public records that were wrongfully withheld, even if it does so voluntarily. In a 4-3 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that a community group was not entitled to recover legal fees from the city of Waukesha under the Wisconsin Open Records Act after its lawsuit seeking access to a draft city contract ultimately prompted officials to make the document public, but without a court order forcing their hand. The issue of attorneys’ fees is not a trivial one. How easy or difficult it is to recover them can sometimes determine whether journalists, news organizations and others take the expensive step of suing a government agency when officials refuse to disclose records in response to a public records request.
Chris Young, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press