Transparency News, 7/9/20


July 9, 2020
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state & local news stories
"The Virginia Department of Health said it would not provide ... information for poultry processing plants 'in order to ensure that VDH is able to preserve the anonymity of individuals whose medical records have been examined during the investigation of COVID-19.'”
Virginia is refusing to release information on COVID-19 outbreaks at poultry processing plants on the grounds of privacy concerns, despite a June decision to provide such data for long-term care facilities. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury in June after Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration began releasing facility-specific data for nursing homes, the Virginia Department of Health said it would not provide the same information for poultry processing plants “in order to ensure that VDH is able to preserve the anonymity of individuals whose medical records have been examined during the investigation of COVID-19.”
Virginia Mercury

Fredericksburg City police will not release body- camera footage from two incidents in which tear gas was fired at protesters on May 31 until the department completes its own internal investigation. The Free Lance–Star requested the footage June 15 under the Freedom of Information Act. According to a response received Thursday from the police department, the footage is exempt from disclosure while it is under investigation by the department. According to the department’s response, the body-camera footage can be requested again under the Freedom of Information Act when the investigation is complete, but it will be subject to review to “determine whether any portion of these reports should be redacted.”
The Free Lance-Star

Finding information about cases for COVID-19 in the West Piedmont Health District is about to become more tedious. Almost daily alerts breaking down cases by age, gender and locality in the West Piedmont Health District are about to stop, district spokesperson Nancy Bell said in an email to media outlets on Thursday morning. That information is incrementally available at by skipping around to various tabs, but the daily specifics are not that obvious except in summary. “The West Piedmont Health District will no longer be reporting cases to you via a daily email,” Bell said in her email, which pointed to the dashboard for VDH. She said she would continue to provide releases, answer questions and would remain committed to that process. “We are eliminating this step due to workload increases,” she wrote.
Martinsville Bulletin

The town of Dumfries collected $24,000 in revenues from Freedom of Information Act requests, and other miscellaneous fees in the Fiscal Year 2020, which ended June 30. The line item amount represents a 944% increase over what the town had anticipated for the year, which was $2,500, according to a preliminary budget report provided to the town council. Dumfries is one of four towns in Prince William County, including Haymarket, Occoquan, and Quantico. In Occoquan, FOIA revenues are flat. Potomac Local News got a similar explanation from a Manassas City spokeswoman, who told PLN the city shows a $0 balance for FOIA requests. PLN got a similar explanation from the Prince William County Government, too. In May, Town Manager Keith Rogers slapped Potomac Local News with a $400 fee when it requested to see the salaries of the town’s more than 20 employees, including officers and support staff at the town’s police department. This same information had been presented as line items in the town’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget but was excluded the following year. Potomac Local News declined to pay the town’s FOIA fee and has yet to receive employee salary records.
Potomac Local News

After 20 years on the job, Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley was forced to submit his resignation Wednesday, according to an agreement between him and the county. After a 2 1/2-hour-long closed session, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a “separation agreement,” which states that “Mr. Stanley, at the request of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, agrees to resign.” The separation agreement, which Stanley and Supervisors Chairman Walt Mabe signed, states that Stanley will receive two months’ severance pay if he also “signs a release.” Mabe declined to comment on the release, noting via telephone that it is confidential.
The Northern Virginia Daily
stories of national interest
"He questioned why the agency would agree to quick processing, but then not follow through on that action."
Around 10 a.m. today, the Supreme Court is set to decide whether President Trump can block the release of his financial records. The ruling, concerning tax returns and other information the president has fought hard to protect, is likely to yield a major statement on the power of presidents to resist demands for information from Congress and prosecutors. Here is a look at the two cases, one concerning subpoenas from House committees, the other a subpoena from the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat.
The New York Times

Conservative group Judicial Watch on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the University of Delaware demanding access to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s senatorial papers. The university, which stores and owns the records, has ignored Freedom of Information Act requests from Judicial Watch and the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF), the lawsuit says. University officials have denied the requests citing a provision in Delaware law that exempts the school from FOIA requests not related to public funds. They appealed the decision to Delaware’s chief deputy attorney general, who sided with the university. But Judicial Watch and DCNF say the school hasn’t supported its claim that public funds were not used to store and house Mr. Biden’s papers.
The Washington Times

A hearing in a public records lawsuit tied to Roger Stone’s sentencing got heated Wednesday, as a federal judge questioned whether the Justice Department was acting in “good faith” in its handling of the records request. Lawyers with Loevy & Loevy filed the lawsuit on behalf of BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold in April, over a Freedom of Information Act request he submitted to DOJ for records relating to President Donald Trump’s tweet criticizing prosecutors’ original sentencing recommendation for Stone and the decision to override that initial memo. se, saying they agreed to expedite the request and the complaint itself did not center on the actual production of documents. They also argued the complaint itself was filed prematurely, because it landed in federal court only 13 days after Leopold submitted his FOIA request. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss of the District of Columbia sharply criticized the Justice Department for granting the motion to expedite and then seeking to dismiss the case. He questioned why the agency would agree to quick processing, but then not follow through on that action.
The National Law Journal

As part of the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government provided up to $659 billion in financial support to banks to make low-interest loans to companies and nonprofit organizations in response to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Search the loans approved by lenders and disclosed by the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Nevada begins its special session Wednesday amid outbreaks in other statehouses, including California, where five Assembly employees, including a Los Angeles assemblywoman, tested positive Monday for COVID-19, and Mississippi, where health officials announced at least eight lawmakers have tested positive. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, lawmakers won't allow members of the public — including lobbyists, activists and others — to enter the Legislature building during the special session. The public will be able to submit written comments or log in remotely to participate. Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, a former lobbyist, said limiting access to the legislative building may funnel lobbyists and observers to nearby businesses — creating both opportunity and risk.
Times Union