Transparency News 8/14/13


Wednesday, August 14, 2013
State and Local Stories


Liberty Guard is filing a freedom of information act injunction against the Fredericksburg City Council this morning to prevent the closed executive session on the Hagerstown Suns from occurring during Tuesday night's City Council meeting. "There is an appearance of violation of Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws by government entities and officials entrusted with the well being of the citizens and taxpayers of the area," Liberty Guard president Joe Seehusen said in a telephone call with Fredericksburg Patch.  "We wanted to step in and ask basic questions and ensure the laws are being respected," he said.
Fredericksburg Patch

The top prosecutor for Williamsburg and James City County on Tuesday was cleared of one misconduct charge, found guilty of a second, and handed a "public admonition" for his actions. Commonwealth's Attorney Nate Green was acquitted of violating a lawyer's ethical rule on conflict of interests when he got involved in the prosecution of a Williamsburg attorney in a drunken driving case, even though the attorney had publicly endorsed Green's run for elected office.
Daily Press

Throughout a long career as superintendent for six school systems spanning several states, Patrick J. Russo has steadily advanced while leaving a trail of controversy. In 2009, when Russo was hired by the Henrico County School Board to lead the district of nearly 50,000 students, officials were aware of his past professional troubles, said William C. Bosher Jr., a former superintendent for Henrico, Chesterfield County and the state who was a consultant in the search process. “For those who want to say that this was a bad decision, they can certainly say that,” Bosher said Tuesday of Russo’s hiring. “But they can’t say that it was a decision made in the absence of knowledge about Dr. Russo’s experience, both good and bad.

The State Board of Elections won’t call it an investigation, but it is asking for accounting from the Richmond registrar’s office for the handling of absentee ballots in a narrowly decided City Council election last fall. The board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Richmond Registrar J. Kirk Showalter for a report on absentee balloting in the 1st District council race that challenger Jonathan T. Baliles won by 20 votes over incumbent Bruce W. Tyler.

A 911 dispatcher who wrote a controversial post on Facebook has been fired. City of Norfolk spokeswoman Lori Crouch confirms Norfolk 911 dispatcher Jessica Camarillo was terminated July 30. The firing comes after Camarillo posted a comment on Facebook in June that created a firestorm of controversy.

Security is on the minds of James City County employees and others in the wake of an Aug. 5 fatal shooting during a supervisors meeting in a rural Pennsylvania township. Between heated rhetoric and more citizens openly carrying firearms to public meetings, both officials and citizens are pondering the nuances between rhetoric, political statement, intimidation and actual threats. It may also lead to new ways to deliver public comment. The issue came up again at the county's two recent rural lands meetings. During one, held at Norge Elementary School, W. Walker Ware IV, a speaker who was asked to summarize his comments about government control, said, "I think we take up muskets and start killing people."
Virginia Gazette

Pearson, the world’s largest education and testing company, provided incorrect scorecards for more than 4,000 students in Virginia who took an alternative assessment last school year. That mistake led to many parents receiving news this summer that their children had passed the test when they had failed it. Pearson and state education officials said the problem in Virginia was not in the scoring but in how the scores were converted into proficiency levels: fail, pass/proficient or pass/advanced.
Washington Post

National Stories

The state online repository of court files is a public record, the Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled, overturning a lower-court judgment that put the state in the awkward position of arguing that its own online registry was insufficiently reliable to establish that a conviction had taken place.
Corvallis Gazette-Times

At a time where information is supposed to be easier than ever to access, public records success still requires a lot of patience and a bit of luck. A look at 907 requests completed by MuckRock users found only about 42 percent of federal Freedom of Information Act requests are completed on time and 27 percent are still without response the first three months.

A Monongalia County judge has ruled that West Virginia University Medical Corporation is a public body and must respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. Monongalia Circuit Court Judge Phillip D. Gaujot made his ruling Aug. 6 in Monongalia County General Hospital’s lawsuit against WVU Medical Corporation, doing business as University Health Associates. A year ago, Mon General Hospital submitted a FOIA request to WVUMC, seeking documents related to WVUMC’s relocation of its urgent care center to Suncrest Towne Centre.
West Virginia Record

Barrett Brown, the once self-appointed Anonymous spokesman and journalist, who faces over a century in jail for — among other charges — reposting links containing credit card information gleaned from the Stratfor hack, has attracted a fair amount of media attention during his year in pre-trial detention. There is good reason to pay attention to Brown and his case, which could set a troubling precedent for liability when reposting information online were he to be found guilty. However, the government prosecution has filed a motion for a “Gag Order” (to disallow media).

After initially agreeing to release data about police inquiries on Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's state license plate, the Iowa Department of Public Safety has decided it will shield the information from the public. The department said last month it would search for and release information showing how many times the 511SOS license plate was run through police databases, when it was done and by which agencies. This came after a high-ranking investigator alleged the governor's vehicle has routinely been allowed to speed. The data would indicate whether Branstad's state-assigned Chevy Tahoe has faced other police stops, pursuits or inquiries in the past 2 1/2 years, beyond the April 26 incident in which the trooper driving Branstad was clocked driving 84 mph on a state highway. It would also show whether the vehicle was caught speeding or running red lights in cities that operate traffic cameras, but avoided citations because of its special undercover designation.
Muscatine Journal

Louisiana’s top school board Monday wrestled with how much input taxpayers should have on public school issues. Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the panel routinely gives public speakers leeway despite rules that are supposed to limit comments to three minutes. “We have never cut them off,” Roemer said during a BESE retreat. “We have never stopped discussions, and I am not suggesting we do so now.” But the issue, which is set for discussion again on Tuesday in a BESE committee, is sparking questions among some groups and individuals who appear before the board.
The Advocate

A year-long string of controversial cases the general public couldn't see at all, or hear until later, hasincreased pressure on the Supreme Court to consider lifting the veil on its proceedings. Since the end of the court's blockbuster term in late June, members of Congress and watchdog groups have urged the justices to allow cameras into the courtroom for the first time, broadcast live audio of their proceedings and adopt a binding code of ethics. Many of the demands come from Democrats and liberal interest groups concerned about the court's conservative tilt. Though they are not likely to prompt Chief Justice John Roberts and his colleagues to make immediate changes, they could eventually help loosen up an institution that guards its privacy and autonomy.
USA Today


Times-Dispatch: Headlines and news stories have not flattered Henrico’s school system. A board meeting that outsiders probably thought would be routine and would include the extension of Superintendent Pat Russo’s contract ignited fireworks. Insufficient transparency has generated rumors and innuendo. Speculation is rife. This does not help the system’s reputation. Winston’s official resignation letter lacked grace. It is difficult to see how Russo can survive, or should. A clean sweep is due, but cannot occur until the 2014 elections.
Michael Paul Williams’ video take