Transparency News 8/15/18



August 15, 2018


The newsletter is taking a vacation. We will return on Tuesday the 21.
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state & local news stories


VCOG is migrating its email to a different service, which might cause some disruptions until we iron out the kinks. If you can't reach us through the usual channels (mrhyne@opengovva.orgor try opengovva@gmail.comor call us: 540-353-VCOG).

On the same night that city council members approved a new set of rules and procedures for orderly meetings, Bristol, Virginia’s mayor banged the gavel at one of the councilmen who he said raised his voice. When council members were given the opportunity during the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting to make comments, Councilman Doug Fleenor questioned City Manager Randall Eads about a city employee’s salary and other topics. Eads responded by saying those items should be discussed in closed session. Fleenor, however, suggested they could be discussed during the public meeting — or he could file a Freedom of Information Act request. Mayor Kevin Mumpower suddenly banged his gavel to stop the discussion. The mayor said Fleenor had raised his voice when questioning Eads.
Bristol Herald Courier

King William County Economic Development Authority member William “Brian” Hodges and Supervisor David E. Hansen will head to court over Hansen’s refusal to provide materials responding to a Freedom of Information Act request. EDA chairman Hodges filed a petition against Hansen after he refused to provide video footage of taped public meetings Hodges sought under a FOIA request, according to court documents. According to a court summons filed on Aug. 6 by Hodges, Hansen “Refused to provide meeting minutes which were personally videotaped by the respondent while serving in the capacity of a supervisor for District 4 in the county of King William, Va.
Tidewater Review

Hanover County has named an interim leader of Patrick Henry High School two weeks after it removed the school’s principal. The division has yet to publicly release details about Smith’s removal, which it is allowed to do under state law. Virginia code does not require the school division to stay silent on specific information related to personnel records, something that’s sparked transparency concerns from the Hanover schools community and open government advocates. “We should have been informed on what was going on,” said Darrell Warner, a Patrick Henry parent, during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “We as a School Board are not blind to that,” School Board Chairman Robert L. Hundley said of the public frustration with the lack of details about Smith’s removal.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two meetings this week will allow the public to get a better look at design plans for the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.
The Virginian-Pilot

Dozens of Lynchburg Police Department officers lined the rows and walls of City Council chambers Tuesday to show their support for an LPD command staff presentation on concerns about officer staffing and retention. Before City Council’s afternoon work session, the officers, some off-duty with their families, walked together from LPD headquarters to City Hall.
The News & Advance

Dozens of community members on Tuesday made clear their frustrations with Charlottesville officials over their handling of the Aug. 12 anniversary weekend. Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she and Councilors Heather Hill, Wes Bellamy and Kathy Galvin gathered at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to listen and not speak about how authorities handled security one year after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, culminating in a car attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens of other counter-protesters. Councilor Mike Signer was absent from the listening session.
The Daily Progress


stories of national interest

The Web Integrity Project’s latest report documents the takedown of an entire page containing staff contact information from the website of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the office within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that is responsible for managing the health and well-being of refugees, asylees, and other specific groups of newly arrived immigrants. The removed “Contact ORR” page, accessible through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, listed individual contact information, such as email addresses and phone numbers, for 22 key ORR employees, including an email address for ORR Director Scott Lloyd. Contact information for the leadership of various ORR divisions, like the Divisions of Refugee Assistance (DRA), Refugee Health, and Children’s Services, was also removed, as was information for employees representing each of the DRA regions across the country. This removed contact information is no longer available anywhere on the ORR website.
Sunlight Foundation

A school board is asking a judge to hold a newspaper in contempt in the case of Parkland school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz. Attorneys say the motion against the South Florida Sun Sentinel is scheduled to be heard Wednesday. The Broward County board claims the newspaper violated court orders by publishing details about Cruz's educational background that were supposed to be redacted to protect his privacy. The Sun Sentinel contends the school board had already exposed those details by mistakenly releasing them in a way anyone could see.
Miami Herald



"The Sun Sentinel contends the school board had already exposed those details by mistakenly releasing them in a way anyone could see."


editorials & columns


"Honest people are now compelled to become scofflaws in the good-faith pursuit of their duties."

We’ve seen the unintended consequences of overzealous reform before. The current obsession with transparency is starting to take a similar toll. In a host of ways, government has been rendered less nimble, less talented and less effective. Honest people are now compelled to become scofflaws in the good-faith pursuit of their duties. Under “open meeting” requirements forbidding members of governing bodies to confer privately, the result is furtive hallway conversations or “executive committee” meetings where the discussion might not technically fall into the category of exemptions that permit such meetings. Open-records laws have had the same effect. Government took a serious wrong turn at the dawn of the email era when somebody decided that these online exchanges are “documents.” Every emailer knows that, perhaps apart from attachments, they are conversations. In sarcastic moments, I sometimes point out the gaping loophole in our public-records laws: Public officials are talking on the phone, and we don’t know what they’re saying!
Mitch Daniels, The Washington Post

Americans of every description and political philosophy, across generations, have zealously guarded our rights as enumerated in the First Amendment and the amendments that follow. All of us are constitutional republicans. We understand the freedoms that make us Americans. Those rights remain remarkably strong today, and we defend them with great passion because they are real and personal and part of our daily lives. The Constitution strengthens everyone by limiting the power of those who govern. The nation relies on a free press to help enforce those limits, and it is working today — though the process is sometimes ugly, and almost always messy. It is designed to foment turmoil and debate — and it has from the beginning.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Press freedom has seen dark days before. We all know about President Richard Nixon and his attempts to use government agencies against perceived media “enemies.” Woodrow Wilson, in his determination to save democracy during World War I, threatened one of its pillars through widespread suppression of the press. The list goes on, even to Barack Obama, who has been criticized for undermining reporters’ rights to protect their sources as he fought to stop leaks. Fortunately, the checks and balances of our system usually prevail.
The Virginian-Pilot

Imagine if your daughter has been wrongfully convicted of murder, and no one cares. Your wife died during childbirth, and the experts now blame her medical condition. Or your dad, a decorated military veteran, is rotting in a nursing home, and the owners pay you lip service — because your dad is really a monthly paycheck to them. These are the stories that our journalists quietly expose. Journalism is mission work, an honest cause beyond our eyes.Like nursing, teaching and police work, it’s built on a foundation of accuracy, trust, wisdom and character, not a billy club.
Manny Garcia, News Leader

Perhaps the biggest legal issue raised by the non-disclosure agreement [Pres. Donal Trump has reportedly asked White House staffers to sign] has to do with the First Amendment. Government employees can and do give up certain rights, including some First Amendment rights, when they enter government service. But non-disclosure agreements of this type use vague and threatening language in order to chill and silence speech. Protecting the president from bad press does not warrant such an erosion of the Constitution. But Manigault Newman's ongoing dispute with Trump should not distract from broader issues of speech in the White House. When it comes to government employees, the name of the game is transparency. Absent issues related to classified information, we are entitled to know what public employees are doing.
Jessica A. Levinson, NBC News