Transparency News 8/15/14

Friday, August 15, 2014  

NOTE: "Transparency News" will be on vacation next week, though I will still post occasional open government news on Twitter:

State and Local Stories

Who is YOUR open government hero in Virginia?VCOG is accepting nominations for its annual FOI awards for citizens, media and government. Go to our website to nominate someone today.
Virginia Coalition for Open Government

With the innovative Kaine E-mail Project, a dedicated group of archivists and information technology professionals has earned Virginia the distinction of being the first state government archives in the United States to make the e-mails of a previous administration freely available to the public online. This effort, which ultimately will place all 1.3 million Kaine administration e-mails online in an organized searchable database, hasreceived the Council of State Archivists Rising Star Award, which acknowledges “outstanding contributions by individual staff members or teams to their state archives and constituencies.”
(From Library of Virginia press release)

To publicly discuss the contents of closed meetings in Amherst County now may come with a price. While the goal is “to balance the greatest openness in government with the corollary need to protect the public interest,” Amherst County Code now outlines in deeper language that board members should respect the confidentiality of executive sessions. The revisions to the board’s procedures follow statements made by District 2 Supervisor Claudia Tucker that a closed session held in June violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. With the revisions, if a member of the board has concerns after the certifying vote is made, that person should inform board members, in addition to the county attorney and county administrator. The county attorney would provide an opinion if a violation occurred, and the board chairman would make a public announcement as to the county attorney’s opinion. If a violation occurred, the chairman would announce the steps to be taken to prevent further violations. For a board member to intentionally disclose the contents of closed sessions would subject him or her to fines or other punishment deemed applicable under Virginia law, states the revisions.
New Era-Progress

Both elected boards in Appomattox County now receive less pay. Appomattox County School Board unanimously voted to reduce its annual compensation at Thursday’s interim school board meeting, something the supervisors did last month. The decision comes three weeks after the board cast a 2-2 vote on whether the members should reduce their compensation or keep it at $4,800. Policy requires the motion to return to the board at the next meeting.
News & Advance

A majority of Staunton’s city council members turned down an idea introduced this week to rotate the city’s ceremonial mayorship after one- or two-year terms. Members vote every two years on which of them should serve as mayor, who runs council meetings and represents the city for ceremonies and public functions, but holds no more voting power than other council members. The person representing the city should be chosen because they would be the best ceremonial leader and face of the city rather than going to someone, “just because it’s their turn,”said councilman Jim Harrington.
News Leader

National Stories

Voting is supposed be a right and a privilege. But in the pint-sized, high-mountain town of Montezuma it also has become grounds for a lawsuit. The town and its novice clerk have filed suit against every registered voter in the town, claiming that an election held last spring had numerous errors. The lawsuit filed in Summit County District Court last week lists errors that include numbers that don't add up and mismatched ballots that had to be patched together with the clerk's sewing machine. The lawsuit asks a judge to command all 61 registered voters in Montezuma to appear in court so the judge can sort out an election mess that the petition calls "fatally flawed."

Back in early 2011, the Justice Department directed agencies to scale back its spending to “mission-essential programs, projects and activities.” And it looks like with good reason. The U.S. Marshals Service’s national and district offices spent $2 million over four years on so-called “swag” that included pillows, teddy bears, silk scarves and holiday ornaments, according to a new MuckRock report.
Washington Post

The legal battle over Oregon's dysfunctional health insurance exchange officially began this week when Oracle Corp. sued the state agency operating the exchange, alleging breach of contract and accusing Gov. John Kitzhaber of attempting to systematically "vilify the company in the media." In a 21-page complaint filed Friday in federal court for the District of Oregon, Portland Division, Oracle charges that during the early months of this year, state officials privately continued to request Oracle's help to fix their system while engaging in a campaign of "constant public slander" against the tech company.

More than 100,000 people, including 20 Pulitzer Prize winners, signed a petition submitted to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder today urging the administration to rethink its policy of subpoenaing journalists to reveal their sources. Seven representatives of free press organizations announced the delivery of the petition at the National Press Club this afternoon and called on the administration to drop its threatened subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen. Risen has been fighting since 2007 to protect a confidential source he used in writing a book about the Central Intelligence Agency, and he joined the panel at the press conference today.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Charleston Gazette has filed a lawsuit seeking to have West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey turn over documents related to an ongoing case against a drug company. The Gazette filed the lawsuit Thursday in Kanawha Circuit Court against Morrisey. Morrisey’s wife, Denise Henry, lobbies for Cardinal Health, and Morrisey has recused himself from the case and had others in his office handle the matter. “The Gazette’s lawsuit follows 11 months of refusals by Morrisey to release records that might show whether he took part in decisions about the Cardinal Health case,” a Gazette story states. “The newspaper requested the documents under the state Freedom of Information Act. Morrisey has identified four, and up to eight, ‘potentially responsive’ documents. But his lawyers have repeatedly argued that Morrisey can keep the records secret, citing ‘attorney-client privilege’ and other exemptions under state law.”
West Virginia Record



It’s not against the law to take photographs or videotape police officers doing their job in public. It’s legal in New York City, Virginia, Washington and even in Ferguson, Mo. And it doesn’t make any difference if the photographer is a professional photojournalist or a 14-year-old with a smartphone.Police, of all people, should not find cameras offensive. Cameras are part of their lives. After all, most police cars now are equipped to film incidents that happen during a patrol shift and an increasing number of officers are even wearing small cameras on their uniforms. A popular cable TV show, “Cops,” has been showing officers making arrests and confronting lawbreakers for years.
Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

The strange case of a Manassas principal who turned out to be a college dropout raises serious questions about security in the hiring of educators. Robin Anthony Toogood II resigned in June after a background check uncovered he was a college dropout, according to officials. Several layers of security appear to have failed in this case. One is simply the lack of communication within the Manassas school system. Although Arlington officials said they warned their colleagues, apparently no one in Manassas adequately followed through on the warnings or thought them important enough to flag for the new school superintendent. The second failure is a broader one, potentially damaging the confidence and security all school systems would like to have in their state’s education department.
Daily Progress