Transparency News 7/30/13


Tuesday, July 30, 2013
State and Local Stories


Even as the Hanover County Board of Supervisors seeks to water down state laws on open meetings, some members are expressing doubts that their proposal will gain traction with the legislature. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” said Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Sean M. Davis. “Quite frankly, it probably won’t get any support in the General Assembly. … I don’t even think it will be carried (as a bill).” Del. Christopher K. Peace, R-Hanover, wrote in an email that he would recommend supervisors and the county attorney request that the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council study the issue.

“If discussion and conclusions happen in a closed meeting thenat the point in time when the public knows about this, the votes are already decided,”  said Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association. “Not only is this bad for the citizens who aren’t able to participate in the democratic process, but it leads to the possibility of cronyism,”she said. Virginia Bureau

Under current law, if two or more Hanover supervisors get together to discuss county business, then it would be considered a meeting and the board would be required under FOIA to inform media of the time, date and location of the meeting. Peterson complained that the process is inefficient. “If a constituent brings something to me, it takes me six conversations to get it out to the rest of the board,” Board Chairman W. Canova Peterson said. He compared the process to the children’s game of  “telephone,” where one person comes up with a phrase and passes it onto another person who then tells someone else. The phrase continues on until it travels to the very last person, often very changed from the original concept.

The firm of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s state-appointed attorney has billed the state $53,530 for roughly a month’s work. That covers the initial services of former Attorney General Anthony F. Troy and some other staffers from his firm. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli appointed Troy to represent McDonnell in legal matters related to a criminal case alleging embezzlement by the former chef at the Executive Mansion. Troy’s firm sent two invoices to the governor’s office, one for work regarding the office of the governor, for $29,252, and the other regarding the governor in his official capacity, for $24,278.Details on the invoices, obtained through the governor’s office by an open records request, were redacted in part.

A laptop containing health records for 2,000 Fairfax County public school students was stolen out of a health department employee’s car, possibly compromising the confidential information, school and health officials said. In a letter to families, school officials said that the laptop was stolen on July 15, when someone broke into a school nurse’s car. Along with the health-department-issued laptop, a briefcase containing paper student records also was stolen, officials said.
Washington Post

A memo sent to staffers at The Roanoke Times on behalf of publisher Terry Jamerson says Joseph P. Stinnett will replace Carole Tarrant as editor of the paper. Stinnett comes to the paper from The News & Advance in Lynchburg. The announcement does not say what Tarrant will do.
WSET (Channel 13), the Roanoke and Lynchburg area's ABC affiliate, and other television stations owned by its parent company Allbritton Co. have been purchased by Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group for $985 million.
Roanoke Times

National Stories

The verdict in the trial of Bradley Manning will be read on Tuesday at the court-martial of the soldier accused of the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history, the judge said, with the biggest question whether he will be convicted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, carrying a life sentence.

A lawyer serving 23 years in prison for fraud is suing the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies over the rejection of his requests for documents related to his case. A federal jury in North Carolina found Gregory Bartko, formerly an Atlanta-based securities lawyer, guilty in November 2010 of conspiracy, mail fraud and selling unregistered securities. In April 2012, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. According to his complaint, filed in Washington federal district court on July 26, he's serving time at the Yazoo Federal Correctional Institute in Yazoo City, Miss. An appeal of the verdict is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Blog of LegalTimes

A few weeks ago, the nonpartisan organization Cause of Action posted a story on its website about a secret Pentagon policy that calls for certain Freedom of Information Act  requests that may generate media attention to first be approved by the Pentagon. Naturally, I was eager to find out what FOIA requests analysts believed would be of interest to the Pentagon. So, I filed a FOIA for a copy of the list of those FOIAs. On Friday, the Office of Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff sent me the list. It makes for interesting reading.
The Public Record

The journalist who has published a string of reports based on documents from National Security Agency leaker Ed Snowden claims he has evidence that "low-level" analysts have easy access to a database that lets them browse the phone, email and Internet histories of anyone.  The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, who is scheduled to speak before a bipartisan congressional group on Wednesday, said he plans to publish a report on the latest findings later this week.
FOX News

DeKalb County, Georgia, Judge Gregory Adams' removal of the public from his courtroom during the early phase of jury selection in the Andrea Sneiderman trial Monday raised eyebrows on the Judicial Qualifications Commission. "Generally, that is the kind of thing that the JQC is going to take a hard look at, any time we have somebody saying that the public has been excluded," said JQC Vice Chairman Lester Tate.
Daily Report


Michael Paul Williams, Times-Dispatch: The Hanover County Board of Supervisors apparently believes gall trumps poor judgment and a perverse sense of timing. How else, in Virginia’s summer of scandal, do you explain the board’s plan to ask the General Assembly to weaken the state’s open meeting laws in the 2014 legislative session? Now is not the time for any politician in Virginia to say, “Trust me, I’m an elected official!”

Roanoke Times: Virginia puts no limits on the amount of money a candidate can take from a single donor, and almost no restrictions on how candidates spend their campaign funds. State law does not prohibit personal use of campaign funds until a candidate has closed his or her campaign account, a step that occurs when a candidate is no longer running for the same office. Only then does the state board of elections have the authority to investigate. If this sounds familiar, remember that Roanoke Del. Onzlee Ware has endured scrutiny for questionable campaign expenditures during his tenure in the House of Delegates. In 2009, Ware was the target of a complaint filed with the board of elections accusing him of improperly documenting reimbursements to himself, failing to fully disclose payments to campaign workers and diverting campaign funds for personal use. The board merely asked Ware to file amended reports to more fully explain the expenditures.