Transparency News 7/31/17

Monday, July 31, 2017

State and Local Stories

Norfolk officials approved the destruction of documents involving the jail's medical services contract one week before a deadline to turn over records on the matter to federal authorities investigating former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe. The destroyed documents included records relating to a 2010 request for proposals to provide medical, dental and mental health services at the city jail, which was won by Nashville-based Correct Care Solutions and has fetched the company more than $3.5 million a year. The documents were approved for shredding in February, seven days before documents involving the same matter were given to the FBI in response to a federal grand jury subpoena.

A Hanover County supervisor’s lawyer accused Style Weekly of publishing “fake news” while an attorney for the Richmond newspaper called on jurors to defend the First Amendment at the start of a defamation trial that began Friday. County Supervisor Sean Davis sued the publication after Style Weekly published articles in 2015 by Peter Galuszka suggesting Davis improperly used his position on the Board of Supervisors to influence Hanover schools.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Millions of dollars that People Express Airlines spent — and the Peninsula Airport Commission provided — remain unaccounted for almost three years after the airline went out of business. The founder of People Express says he is working with investigators to gather specific numbers on how the airline spent $4.5 million of a loan that Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport repaid with taxpayer funds. "What I can tell you is lease fees ... for the aircraft, airport, ground handling, fuel deposits and hiring 100 people did eat up the bulk of the loan," People Express founder Michael Morisi said in an email response to questions from the Daily Press. "And yes, by November 2014 we were out of money," he said.
Daily Press

In 1932, Clara Smith—from whom many say the community of Ladysmith got its name—paid $1.28 for parts she ordered from a catalog for her Studebaker automobile. Mrs. E. Bizzell, residing at the Pine Needles Camp in Ladysmith, ordered $7.05 worth of goods from Anne’s Dress Shop in Fredericksburg in March 1931 and B.E. Mitchell, principal of C.T. Smith High School, paid $7.16 for books for the school from the American Book Company in January 1931. These and many more COD—or “cash on delivery”—receipts are part of a trove of almost 90-year-old postal archives recently recovered during remodeling at the Ladysmith Citgo, formerly known as Garland Allen’s Store. The general store, which has been located at the corner of Ladysmith Road and U.S. 1 since before World War II, used to serve as the post office for what was once a small, rural area.
Free Lance-Star

The limits of constitutionally protected speech and freedom of assembly are being put to the test in Charlottesville. In less than two weeks, members of the National Socialist Movement, the pro-secessionist League of the South and hundreds of their allies in the Nationalist Front and “alt-right” movement will gather in Emancipation Park for the Unite the Right rally. Arranged by self-described “pro-white” activist Jason Kessler, the rally is expected to also draw hundreds of confrontational counter-protesters who will be able to gather at McGuffey and Justice parks, per event permits recently secured by University of Virginia professor Walt Heinecke.
Daily Progress

National Stories

With limited resources and an increasing workload, agency officials hope that technology can help automate practices to make the government more transparent.  First, however, they need to improve the practices themselves. The process surrounding (federal) Freedom of Information Act requests has engendered frustration over both the lengthy time it takes to receive responses and the not-so-transparent aspects of the process surrounding the 50-year-old transparency law.

Former Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt's attorney says the university is trying to postpone the release of Hugh Freeze's phone records by redacting personal information from the calls, which he says isn't permitted under state open-records laws. In a letter sent to Ole Miss assistant general counsel Rob Jolly on Friday, attorney Thomas Mars accused the school of a "pattern of concealing information from the public by manufacturing bogus exemptions and illegal roadblocks that plainly violate the FOIA." In the letter, which was obtained by ESPN, Mars said the university estimated the cost of searching, reviewing, redacting and duplicating Freeze's cell phone records from June 2012 to present would cost $25,100. The school said it was still estimating the costs for records of Freeze's landline calls.

Getting answers to Freedom of Information Act requests is often a protracted and tiring process, but how long a wait is too long? One federal judge just came up with an answer: 17 years. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler bluntly rejected the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s proposal that documentary filmmaker Nina Seavey wait until the year 2034 to get all the law enforcement agency’s records for a request pertaining surveillance of anti-war and civil rights activists in the 1960s and 1970s. The request involved an unusually large amount of material — about 110,000 pages of records at the FBI and more at other agencies — but Seavey said waiting almost two decades for the complete files wasn’t viable for her.

After weeks of legal battles and bipartisan pushback from top election officials nationwide, President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission has renewed a message for the states: It's safe to pass along your data about voters. "Individuals' voter registration records will be kept confidential and secure throughout the duration of the commission's existence," Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the commission, wrote in a letter sent late Wednesday to all 50 secretaries of state. Even so, by Thursday, much of the criticism that greeted an earlier request from the commission was repeated by election officials and activists, who have expressed concerns about privacy and have called the panel both a sham created by an insecure president and a tool to suppress votes.