Transparency News 7/7/17

Friday, July 7, 2017

Transparency News will be on vacation next week and will return on July 17. I'll still be tweeting at
and Facebooking at

State and Local Stories

In an order released Thursday, the Virginia Supreme Court swatted down an appeal from an investigative news nonprofit that sought access to reports car-title lenders file with the State Corporation Commission. The court found that the “assignments of error” were deficient, or that the basis for the appeal of the SCC’s decision not to release the reports to the Center for Public Integrity didn’t stand up to legal scrutiny. “Even if the commission ultimately had concluded that the center’s interpretation of (the code) was correct, that would only mean that the statute does not prohibit the commission from releasing the reports. It would not mean that the commission is required to release them,” the order says. “In short, the assignments of error fail to identify the ruling made by the commission and thus fail to identify any specific error in that ruling.” Scott Surovell, a lawyer and Democratic state senator from Fairfax County who argued the case last month before the court, called the order a disappointing decision that failed to resolve the underlying legal issues the case raised.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Charlie Spatz is with a non-profit in Northern Virginias called the Climate Investigation Center.  He’s heard about public hearings In Buckingham County that attracted large crowds to speak against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  And when the board of supervisors voted unanimously to allow the project, Spatz heard complaints from residents who wondered how that was possible. Here, for example, is Pastor Paul Wilson, whose church sits near the pipeline’s proposed path.  He attended a public hearing and left feeling angry.  So Spatz sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the county, asking for all correspondence with Dominion.  What he found was a cordial relationship between local officials, the town’s largest employer, Kyanite Mining, and Dominion.  As early as June of 2015, Dominion was meeting with Buckingham officials at Kyanite to plan for the pipeline, followed by lunch at a local restaurant.

Execution witnesses used to be able to watch inmates walk into the chamber and be strapped down. A curtain would then be closed so the public could not see the placement of the IV and heart monitors. After the curtain was reopened, inmates would be asked whether they have any final words before the chemicals started to flow. In Morva's execution, the curtain was closed when the witnesses entered the chamber and was not opened until he was strapped to the gurney and the IV lines were in place. Virginia used a three drug mixture, including midazolam and potassium chloride that it obtained from a compounding pharmacy whose identify remains secret under state law.

Two white, stained, cotton robes that may have belonged to men who met with others at Thomas Jefferson’s tomb in the summer of 1921 to form a Charlottesville chapter of the Ku Klux Klan were shown to the media and a few others behind closed doors Thursday afternoon. After pulling two of the 26 robes in its museum collection — and following requests from local activists, academics and journalists — the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society held a private conference to discuss the origins of the robes and how they came into the historical society’s possession. Without consulting the donor, the historical society decided not to reveal who the items belonged to, where they were found or who had donated them. Meeks said they have identified the names of two Klan members associated with the artifacts. “They were donated to us nearly 25 years ago,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that things have changed, and [with] the current climate of things, we just don’t think it’s right to release the names.”
Daily Progress

National Stories

Naming the sender or recipient of email (and a date range) is enough – all the law requires to trigger a search, according to a new ruling by the D.C. Office of Open Government (OOG). The D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) had been warning they would only process search requests naming every possible recipient. The policy was contained in a form OCTO has been issuing to all D.C. agencies submitting requests from the public for government emails. OCTO is the keeper of the keys to the email kingdom, as that office operates the computer network and servers for all D.C. government emails.
D.C. Open Government Coalition

Maine Gov. Paul LePage suggested on Thursday he makes up stories with the intent to mislead the media. “I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful,” LePage told WGAN-AM.

Driven by its never-ending desire to have greater control of what information about its activities are made public, CIA drafted a SECRET report listing 126 things that the Agency could use to argue something was subject to the “sources and methods” protections. Intended to address difficulties censoring Victor Marchetti’s book on the Agency, the list was designed to be both “broad enough and specific enough” to include as much as possible. While the list has been used to help justify a number of FOIA withholdings, the list itself has been withheld … to protect the Agency’s intelligence sources and methods.


THE VIRGINIA Supreme Court has, in recent years, issued a handful of rulings that reflect a profound disinterest in protecting the public’s right to information that should be readily available to citizens. The most egregious was its indefensible 2015 decision in Virginia Department of Corrections v. Surovell, which allowed officials to deny the release of documents containing sensitive information rather than redacting the information, which was the previous protocol. Now it seems the General Assembly will have to tidy up another mess. This one stems from last week’s ruling in Daily Press v. the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Virginia Supreme Court.

Danny Plaugher, the executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, seems awfully cavalier about the way his group tried to mislead people by altering a Times-Dispatch photo.
Richmond Times-Dispatch