Transparency News 7/26/13


Friday, July 26, 2013
State and Local Stories


The showdown between Richmond School Board members continued Thursday, with a member who was asked to step aside after her husband’s arrest on drug charges digging in. Sixth District representative Shonda M. Harris-Muhammed said she plans to keep her seat on the board, ignoring the suggestion of the board’s majority that she step aside, at least for now, to deal with her personal matters. Later in the day, School Board Chairman Jeffrey Bourne, 3rd District, said the board stood behind a statement it released Wednesday in which seven of the eight other members asked Harris-Muhammed to distance herself from the board while dealing with the legal fallout of the Tuesday arrest of her husband, Demetrius Muhammed.

On Thursday, Virginia Beach police defended their decision to call more than 17,000 residents in 11 neighborhoods using the city’s reverse 911 system, saying they were using all available resources to locate her. The 3:20 a.m. message said police were looking for the girl, last seen in the Lake Christopher area, about 10 p.m. the night before. The call came from VBAlert, a reverse 911 system used to contact residents’ land lines to give public safety and emergency information. “If we didn’t use this and – God forbid – something really bad had happened, like a child was harmed, we’d be having a very different conversation today,” Police Capt. Sean Adams said. “I support the decision they made. The chief supports the decision they made.”

A warning isn’t just a warning anymore for Roanoke County drivers. While a motorist escaping a traffic stop without a ticket may still breathe a sigh of relief, the violation doesn’t simply vanish in Roanoke County. Since April, Roanoke County police have been issuing and documenting written warnings. Chief Howard Hall said the recorded warnings add a layer of knowledge for officers and give them a better chance of enforcing laws effectively. While Hall said he has worked in departments where warnings were documented, the practice is not common among Roanoke-area agencies. Roanoke police do not keep track of warnings, Capt. Monti Lee said. A Virginia State Police spokesman said the statewide agency does not record warnings, either.
Roanoke Times

An Isle of Wight school board member is officially "off the hook" for controversial emails he sent to other county officials. Thursday, 10 On Your Side learned the Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney has plans to file a motion to nonsuit the "recall and remove from office petition" against Byron Bailey, the vice-chairman of Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

State and local authorities are investigating threatening emails sent to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Search warrants obtained by NBC4 Washington Thursday reveal the sender of the emails threatened the Republican candidate for governor and his family. The email was sent through Cuccinelli’s campaign website. The campaign reported it to Virginia State Police.
News Leader

Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors, Jim Jennings was sentenced on Monday to a reduced charge relating to his reelection campaign in 2011. According to testimony, the violation occurred in July of 2011 when Jennings left an election petition at an area store. Five voters signed the petition. Jennings signed to verify that he had witnessed the signings when he did not.
South Hill Enterprise

National Stories

A group of open-government advocates is calling on the Supreme Court to improve public access to the financial disclosure forms justices fill out every year. Instead of releasing the documents in paper form through the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on a delayed basis, and only on request, the groups say the court should make them immediately available online.  Common Cause, which has been urging greater transparency from the court on several fronts in recent years, was joined by these organizations in sending the letter: Alliance for Justice, Association of Research Libraries, The Center for Media and Democracy, Center for Public Integrity, Justice at Stake, and the Society of American Archivists.
Blog of LegalTimes

The records of all state-related universities in Pennsylvania may soon be open to public scrutiny, as lawmakers consider imposing more accountability on taxpayer-subsidized universities. Meanwhile, the state Office of Open Records is implementing a court ruling that could provide access to some documents from schools not defined as state agencies. The Commonwealth Court's July 19 decision in Bagwell v. Department of Education means that the public may be able to access some university information in a roundabout way by filing open-records requests with state-government departments that communicate with the universities.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Wesley College (Del.) published more than a dozen records online that revealed the test scores, grades and evaluations of individual students. Among the information available online were scores earned on content-area exams, grade-point averages and written critiques. The college was not the victim of someone hacking into a password-protected system to find the records. They were posted online by someone at the school in 2011 in a folder that was not password protected. The Dover-based college removed the files from public access online almost immediately after a reporter from The News Journal asked today about the public nature of the records. All the files were discovered this morning by a reporter doing a Google search seeking information about the college.
News Journal

The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users’ stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed. If the government is able to determine a person’s password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user.

The board overseeing Idaho's health insurance exchange plans a 3-hour, 40-minute meeting behind a downtown Boise law office's closed doors where citizens will be barred Thursday _ nearly twice as long as a public meeting scheduled later that day. When the 2013 Legislature approved the exchange in April, it made clear it wanted open meetings. Lawmakers who wrote the statute creating this online insurance marketplace under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul said "every reasonable effort shall be made to make such meetings televised or streamed."
Idaho State Journal

A Tennessee student convicted of hacking Republican Sarah Palin's email in the 2008 election year has been released early from federal supervision. David Kernell was supposed to be supervised by the U.S. Probation Office until November 2014 after being released from prison in 2011.
Anchorage Daily News

A series of unsealed opinions released today in a high-profile leak case in Washington reveal new information about possible defense strategies and also the scope of documents and information prosecutors will be able to keep secret. Former U.S. Department of State contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim is charged with leaking confidential information about North Korea to Fox News reporter James Rosen. Earlier this year, Kim’s attorneys pressed the government to disclose, in discovery, a trove of information. Until Thursday, Kim's motions, along with the government's responses and subsequent court opinions, were sealed.
Blog of LegalTimes

A group of industry lobbyists and privacy rights advocates voiced support Thursday for new voluntary guidelines for mobile apps that should make it easier for consumers to know what personal information is getting sucked from their smartphone or tablet and passed along to marketers.

In Closing Argument, Prosecutor Casts Soldier as ‘Anarchist’ for Leaking Archives / The prosecution argues that Pfc. Bradley Manning is a traitor, but his lawyers say he is a principled protester who wanted to help society.
New York Times


Times-Dispatch: In the shadow of a public-disclosure scandal that has consumed Virginia politics throughout the summer and that has all but torpedoed the governorship of Bob McDonnell, officials in Hanover think the state needs less transparency in government. The Board of Supervisors wants a change to Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act to allow more closed-door meetings. Incredibly, the rest of the board unanimously endorsed his proposal.

Daily PressWhen is an invitation not an invitation? When a price tag — both both monetary and ethical — is attached. Last week, Kevin Orizuk — a Republican candidate for the James City County Board of Supervisors — hosted a fundraiser that featured appearances by other Republicans such as Delegates Brenda Pogge and Mike Watson and attorney general candidate E.W. Jackson. A reporter from the Virginia Gazette, which also provides stories for the Daily Press, contacted Orizuk and made plans to cover the event. Problems arose, however, when the reporter was told that she could not enter the fundraiser without making a $20 donation to county's Republican committee. Explanations were given, appeals to reason were made and phone calls were placed, but the committee chairwoman held firm that the reporter could not cover the event without first making a campaign contribution. We understand that politicians and candidates occasionally hold private meetings — events that are "invitation only" and not open to the press. But a $20 barbecue fundraiser hardly seems to be the sort of top-level strategy session that calls for such measures.

Roanoke Times: The governor of Virginia is addressed on formal occasions as The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell. Long before he was elected chief executive, he exuded an almost old-fashioned sense of honor. But this week, McDonnell had an opportunity to leave office in the way a public servant should. Instead, he left the country, tweeted a half-hearted apology and waited for the scandal to blow over. Acknowledging those errors and doing what was necessary to clean up his personal ledger would have caused him some public chagrin, but most of his constituents would have respected him for taking responsibility for his all-too-human mistakes. Instead, he kept his troubles under cover. And a businessman involved in a tax dispute with the state came to his rescue.