Transparency News 7/9/18



July 9, 2018


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


state & local news stories


"If the attraction-laden footage looked like an advertisement for the city, that’s because it sort of was."

This is the corrected link to the George Mason FOIA case noted in Friday's newsletter.

On Monday, an estimated 5.22 million viewers tuned in to ABC to watch an episode of “The Bachelorette” filmed in Richmond. If the attraction-laden footage looked like an advertisement for the city, that’s because it sort of was. Virginia Tourism Corp. paid $536,130.38 for the show to film here. Virginia Tourism made a financial contribution of $300,000 to “The Bachelorette” to film in Virginia and $236,130.38 to help defray costs of rooms, meals, production space, internet and parking at the Graduate Hotel and Quirk Hotel, where the cast and staff stayed during filming, according to documents obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

About 60 Culpeper teens and pre-teens on Friday learned that an unknown evil-doer replaced the Declaration of Independence with a fake—and it was all up to them to save the day and find the original. The Culpeper County Library hosted five sessions of an escape room for the students ranging in age from 10 to 17, challenging them to reach into their knowledge base and work in teams to defeat the presented puzzles. The kids had to translate a message into the Culper Code and use the result to open a locked box to help the rest of the group find the Declaration and “escape” the room. Children’s librarian Laini Bostain, along with Culpeper County registrar James Clements and a team of about six tricky teen consultants, designed the puzzles which each featured academic strengths and relied upon the teens’ usage of library resources to crack the solutions.
Culpeper Star-Exponent

The Norfolk School Board chairman and superintendent are suing an educational foundation just as its former director, who left behind a trail of unpaid bills, takes a seat on the School Board. The lawsuit asks a judge to appoint an independent overseer for the Norfolk Education Foundation as it’s dissolved. But the case was authorized by the previous School Board, a majority of whose members left office June 30. If the foundation is dissolved, its assets will go to the school district by state law. District officials have said they want court-appointed oversight to make sure the money isn’t misspent in the meantime. The foundation has resisted calls for an independent audit, so the district also wants the court to order one.
The Virginian-Pilot


stories of national interest

A federal judge in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Burlington, Iowa, granted a request by an Iowa watchdog group to intervene in the case. U.S. Senior Judge James Gritzner on Friday granted the request to intervene by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, but has deferred the watchdog group’s request to unseal police body camera footage and court documents and evidence introduced in the wrongful death of Autumn Steele, 34, of Burlington. The video and documents had been filed under seal in the wrongful death lawsuit. 
The Gazette

Emails obtained by Live 5 News through a Freedom of Information Act Request show an email spat between Summerville, South Carolina, Mayor Wiley Johnson, Town Administrator Colin Martin, and Councilman Bill McIntosh over a vehicle in a ditch within town limits.  The original email from Johnson to Martin on June 4 stated: "SUV in ditch on W. 4th North St. and N. Pine since before the weekend. Have it removed ASAP." At 3 p.m. that afternoon, McIntosh sent an email to Martin, the mayor and all councilmembers which called Johnson's email "not appropriate" and wrote, "None of us want are individually authorized to send commands such as this to our Administrator or to anyone reporting to him." Johnson replied to McIntosh and Martin 19 minutes later, "Your (McIntosh) comments are out of line and insulting...As mayor, I have the right and authority to ask questions and to ask that action be taken under the law. Please do not attempt to hinder me in that endeavor. If you have a problem with me or my actions, why don't you give me a call."  McIntosh responded again.  "'Have it removed ASAP' is an order, command or directive. It is not pointing out a problem or asking a question," he wrote in part. "...None of us-- as individuals -- have the right to issue orders, commands or directives. We can only do that collectively."

An Arkansas Freedom of Information Act violation civil lawsuit the city of Fort Smith lost in January was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday. In January, Sebastian County Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh granted a summary judgement in favor of plaintiff Bruce Wade of Fort Smith, concluding a series of emails exchanged between Fort Smith city directors and the city administrator in May and August 2017 constituted a violation of the act. The issue of whether or not an exchange of emails like this between city directors is a violation of FOIA will also be addressed by the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Task Force on July 16 in Little Rock.
Times Record





editorials & columns


"Communication between officials about issues before a public body should be done in full view of the public."

Government often struggles to adapt to changes wrought by technology, and that’s certainly true of laws pertaining to public records. With so many means of communication available to officials — including texts, social media and instant messaging, to name three — it’s essential the law makes clear that communication in these forms, if used to conduct the people’s business, should be preserved and available for public review. Virginia’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council is working on that issue now. The Public Records Subcommittee met earlier this year to discuss whether public officials’ use of text messages to communicate with one another during a public meeting is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The answer, of course, is that it should be. Communication between officials about issues before a public body should be done in full view of the public. But this being Virginia, it’s not so cut and dried.
The Virginian-Pilot

Hunton Andrews Kurth announced that it would not donate to candidates who refused to accept donations from APCo, one of its clients. Let’s be clear: There is nothing inherently wrong with such a move. If some people refuse to accept donations under certain conditions, others can refuse to give donations under certain conditions. But we find the law/lobby firm’s position interesting as a measure of the high stakes involved. Electricity utilities are big business, and Hunton Andrews Kurth’s willingness to take such an unusual step proves so. It now becomes not just an advocate for its client’s agenda, but a direct participant in the controversy over utility regulation. Will lawmakers now rescind their pledge not to accept APCo campaign contributions? They can hardly do so with integrity after having taken such a public stand against such donations. Hunton Andrews Kurth has made its point — but that point may be symbolic rather than substantive.    
The Daily Progress