Transparency News 8/12/13


Monday, August 12, 2013
State and Local Stories


The man who leads prosecutions in Williamsburg and James City County will find himself in an unfamiliar place in the courtroom on Tuesday — as defendant rather than prosecutor. Williamsburg-James City Commonwealth's Attorney Nate Green will face a three-judge panel that will determine whether he committed misconduct in his handling of a drunken-driving case involving a local lawyer more than two years ago.
Daily Press

Former Hampton City Public Schools Superintendent Patrick J. Russo has closed a four-year legal battle with the school division, just as a new skirmish has surfaced with his current employer, Hernrico County Public Schools. The Hampton School Board sued Russo in late 2009 for $102,220 in payments to a retirement fund they claimed he was required to return because he broke his contract one year early to be superintendent at Henrico schools. Russo filed a countersuit claiming a transition agreement superseded his contract and said the school division had improperly withheld his final paychecks. Russo was ordered to pay the money back by a Hampton judge in 2011, but he appealed to the state Supreme Court. That case was dismissed in June 2012, according to court records, and the case was returned to the Hampton court. A two-day jury trial had been scheduled to start Aug. 6 but a settlement was reached in July, according to Stanley Barr, Hampton school division attorney. Barr would not provide additional details about the settlement.
Daily Press

Hanover County’s supervisors asked for feedback on their proposal to loosen state regulations restricting private meetings of elected officials, and the reactions have been well shy of a warm welcome. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution last month asking the Virginia General Assembly to change open government regulations to allow more elected officials to meet behind closed doors without notifying the public. “The proposal would weaken the public’s ability to monitor their government,” Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, wrote to Hanover Board of Supervisors Chairman W. Canova Peterson IV. Rhyne said local governments in Virginia have increasingly used what’s known as “two-by-two meetings” to discuss government proposals outside of public view, in advance of a public vote.

The state attorney general’s office has grown dramatically under Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is campaigning for governor with a call to get government off the backs of the public. Much of the gain has come from federal dollars to combat Medicaid fraud. The office plans to spend $42.7 million this year, up nearly 25 percent from $34.3 million the year Cuccinelli took office, state budget documents show. That outpaces the 15.7 percent growth in the total state budget over the same time, including the 13 percent increase in the governor’s office or the 1.4 percent decline in funding for the state’s main law enforcement agency, the Virginia State Police. Staffing is set to rise 19 percent, to 381 positions.
Roanoke Times

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli mixed nasty with nice Friday morning as they made their pitches to a business-friendly crowd in Manassas at the latest forum in a campaign many have labeled a “race to the bottom” for both candidates’ incessant attacks on one another’s policy positions and personal character.
Washington Times

National Stories

court case involving prayers at town council meetings has brought together a pair of natural rivals: The Obama administration and congressional Republicans. President Obama's Justice Department and lawmakers from the House and Senate -- nearly all Republicans -- filed legal briefs this week asking the Supreme Court to rule in favor of religious invocations at government meetings.
USA Today

They say if you make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. After years of nagging by transparency advocates, on July 24 the city’s Department of Finance quietly released its trove of tax lot records. Looks like open data just got its big-city swagger. The dataset, called MapPLUTO (short for Property Land Use Tax lot Output), is a detailed tract of every piece of property in the city. Separated by borough, each file is essentially a massive spreadsheet. The rows are unique tax lots, and each column describes an attribute — things like property value, number of buildings on the lot, square footage, and other mundane factoids you’d expect only tax assessors care about.

Just hours after President Obama defended the National Security Agency's activities, the foreign surveillance agency released a document in which it claims to review only a small faction of Internet traffic on a daily basis. In a seven-page paper released late Friday titled "The National Security Agency: Missions, Authorities, Oversight and Partnerships,” the agency asserts that the amount of data it collects from the global communications apparatus on a daily basis is comparable in size to a dime placed on a basketball court.

A Tennessee mother is appealing a court's decision after a judge ordered her son's name be changed from "Messiah." Jaleesa Martin and the father of Messiah could not agree on a last name, which is how they ended up at a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Thursday.
USA Today

This week, The Baltimore Sun received a response to its FOIA query for subpoena requests against its reporters' phone records. The United States Department of Justice Office of Information Policy was the target of the original Sun query, which asked for for records pertaining to any subpoena requests that the Department of Justice made for telephone records of Baltimore Sun or Tribune Company employees from 2000 to 2010. The response, given more than a month after the DOJ's initial, self-assigned deadline, indicates that such records are distributed across many offices and systems, each of which must be FOIA'd individually. The response further stated that the newspaper's best hope of receiving documents is to contact another office within the justice department.
Baltimore Sun


Daily Progress: Having endorsed Mr. McDonnell for governor nearly four years ago, it gives us no pleasure now to urge him to resign. Our reasons for this extraordinary step are both philosophical and practical.

Virginian-Pilot: Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is still clinging to gifts he never should've accepted, but the embattled Republican got one thing right this week when he called for a special legislative session to reform Virginia's woefully inadequate ethics and financial disclosure laws. Unfortunately, his fellow Republicans weren't quite as willing. Gov. Bob McDonnell and high-ranking legislators brushed off the request. It was another mistake in a long line of them.

Daily Press: Poor Virginia. Even during our fair Commonwealth's dumbest political moments — Massive Resistance to school integration comes to mind — Virginians always consoled themselves with the belief that at least our politicians were fairly honest. No longer.

Times-Dispatch: Virginians have expressed almost unanimous outrage over the scandal involving Gov. Bob McDonnell and his benefactor, Jonnie Williams Sr. The source of their outrage is twofold. They do not like what the governor did. They also do not like the fact that what he did seems to fall within the bounds of state law. Public opinion and leading Virginia officials – including McDonnell himself – have called for a revision of the state’s ethics laws. So have we. As we explained in an earlier editorial, we would like to see Virginia create an independent ethics commission. Today we turn our attention to gifts.