Transparency News 8/16/13


Friday, August 16, 2013     State and Local Stories


VCOG on MixCloud: Sunshine Playlist, Part 2

The Daily Press has received the memorandum of understanding for the transfer of assets of the Peninsula Fine Arts Center to Christopher Newport University. The 18-page document was emailed Wednesday afternoon, following a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the newspaper. CNU President Paul Trible said he planned to give it to the Daily Press even if the formal request had not been filed, and he would have "probably" turned it over before PFAC members voted for the merger earlier this month. "I'm going to be a good citizen and send it to you, because I think you should have it," Trible said.
Daily Press

Coeburn Councilman Jeff Kiser alleged during Monday's regular session that Mayor Jess Powers and two other councilmen held an unannounced meeting in July that did not conform to Virginia's open meeting law. Powers' defense was that he was acting not as a council member but as the interim town manager, meaning the July 28 meeting was not a violation of law. Town Attorney Gary Gilliam acknowledged council needs to be careful not to bring three or more members together and discuss town business unless they advertise it first.
Coalfield Progress, via VCOG

A 26-year-old man is behind bars following an investigation by Fairfax and federal investigators that alleges he used fake identification in an attempt to conceal his marriages to two women simultaneously. James City Police arrested David Jin Lee on Wednesday and charged him with forgery of a public document. WUSA in Washington reported Thursday that Lee is also charged with bigamy and uttering a forged public document. James City Police's arrest reports released Thursday did not list an address for Lee. The arrest is the culmination of an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a detective from Fairfax Police. Fairfax police say that a man used fake CIA credentials to cover up that he was married to two women at the same time.
Daily Press

Fixing the James River Bridge grid deck will cost at least $200,000 more than previously thought, according to documents from the Virginia Department of Transportation obtained by the Daily Press under the Freedom of Information Act, bringing the total to more than $1 million. VDOT confirmed on Wednesday it had awarded the contract to affix metal studs onto the steel grid deck to Corman Construction Inc. at a cost of $897,500. According to an Aug. 1 email sent by VDOT District Structure and Bridge Engineer Jim Long to VDOT District Administrator Jim Utterback, the $897,500 contract, along with costs for construction, engineering and inspection, as well as a 5 percent contingency will bring the total project cost to $1,034,730.
Daily Press

Henrico County Attorney Joseph P. Rapisarda Jr. said Thursday that his office did not tell Henrico School Board member Diana D. Winston that her husband could continue selling promotional products to the school district after she was elected. Joe Winston, the president of TechnoMarketing Inc., said in an interview Wednesday that he had been cleared by a county attorney to continue doing business with the school district, but Rapisarda said Thursday that that is incorrect. “The county attorney’s office did not give any such opinion,” Rapisarda said. Winston responded by saying the opinion had come from a “School Board attorney.” Asked about Winston’s response, Rapisarda said all attorneys assigned to the school district work for his office and that he can speak for all of them.

Embattled Patrick County Schools Superintendent Roger Morris is no longer leading the school system, and some educators moved during a series of controversial reassignments in June were reinstated to their former posts. The latter came after a hastily called, 2 1⁄2 hour school board meeting that was conducted largely behind closed doors. Before a crowd of 40 in cramped boardroom, school board members spoke briefly before moving quickly into closed session, citing personnel and consultation with legal counsel regarding pending litigation. While the board met, the crowd outside the school system’s administrative office grew. About 60 people waited outside, some setting up lawn chairs to sit.
Roanoke Times

When Franklin City Manager Randy Martin was hired a year and a half ago, one goal he wanted to accomplish was being awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association. A year and a half has passed, and he can check that goal off his list. The highest form of recognition in the area of government accounting has been achieved as of Aug. 6. “This is a good achievement for us,” Martin said. “It has residual benefits as well. The financing institutions that you seek to borrow from and organizations of that nature recognize that this speaks well to the community. It will help in credit ratings.” The award is based on the 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The report was judged by an impartial panel to meet the standards of the program, including demonstrating a constructive “spirit of full disclosure” to clearly communicate its financial story and motivate potential users and user groups to read the report.
Tidewater News

Last Thursday’s Warsaw Town Council meeting took an unexpected turn when Warsaw officials clashed over town interests in a discussion that almost led to one council member walking out. On Aug. 8, Mayor Mark Milstead addressed confusions elicited by Council member William Washington over a logo that was used on the sign for the town park. At the last meeting, Washington expressed his understanding that the logo he designed was to represent the identity of the town through its use on websites, stationery and letterheads, and not just on the park sign.
Northern Neck News

On George Washington’s childhood farm in Virginia, archaeologist Phil Levy is telling me the famous folk tale about young George confessing that he’d destroyed his father’s favorite cherry tree with his hatchet. But Levy’s nowhere in sight. It’s just me, an iPad and a whole lot of cicadas in the middle of a dewy field, which was part of the Washington family’s 580-acre estate near Fredericksburg in the mid-1700s. Thanks to an interactive iPad tour, I’m taking the experts along with me on my Saturday morning ramble around Ferry Farm. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit since 2008, when I heard that archaeologists had unearthed the foundation of the Washington house, where George lived from age 6 until his early 20s. Since then, scientists and historians have been slowly piecing together the most elusive side of our first president: his early years.
Washington Post

National Stories

The spirit of Catch-22 lives on at the Pentagon's Office of the Inspector General. In Joseph Heller's classic World War II novel, aviators who wanted to avoid flying deadly bombing missions over Europe would seek to be disqualified for mental health reasons. But the missions were so dangerous that those who wanted to stop flying them couldn't be considered crazy and therefore were deemed sane enough to keep flying. At the inspector general's office, investigative reports into the misdeeds of some of the military's generals, admirals and top civilian employees are available to the public only if you ask for them. But how do you know which reports to ask for? They won't tell you. You'll have to figure that out for yourself. But that's not all, said Bridget Serchak, chief of public affairs for the inspector general.
USA Today

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents. Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
Washington Post

When U-2 spy planes first soared over Nevada in 1955, they flew higher than any other plane ever: 60,000 feet. The development and construction of the vessels were part of a top-secret CIA operative in the remote desert of Nevada known as Area 51. When people who lived nearby saw the sleek planes -- far above, glinting in the sun -- they had no idea what they were. And naturally, it became widely believed they were UFOs carrying aliens. Many of the details and history around Area 51 and U-2 planes were recently declassified by the CIA and revealed to the public on Thursday. This information comes via a 355-page report (PDF) titled "The Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Programs, 1954 - 1974," which the National Security Archive got the CIA to declassify under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Massachusetts state trooper who leaked arrest photos of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going back on patrol. Sgt. Sean Murphy, who had been stationed at department headquarters in Framingham, is now assigned to the midnight shift at the Athol barracks in north-central Massachusetts, state police spokesman David Procopio said Thursday.
Fox News

Arizona Rep. Bob Thorpe locked down his Twitter account, barred reporters from following it and erased several comments after Democrats and civil rights activists called several of his tweets racially insensitive. The tweets were in response to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement on Monday that the Department of Justice would no longer pursue mandatory minimum prison sentences for many low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, suggested on Twitter that Holder, who is black, was changing DOJ’s sentencing policies in order to give preferential treatment to black inmates.
Arizona Capitol Times

Michigan lawmakers could be taking up a bill that would make getting information easier from public entities. House Bill 4001 limits the costs a public body can charge when someone files a request for public records under the Freedom of Information Act. “Costs associated with FOIA had grown to the point they had become a barrier to information the public was otherwise supposed to ordinarily have,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, in a statement. “If you can’t afford to get it, you obviously can’t read it. The current law is supposed to make many aspects of FOIA free unless the specific costs will be unreasonably high, but in practice this wasn’t always happening. In many ways, this bill is more about getting FOIA to work how it was originally intended to than anything else.”
(Port Huron) Times Herald

A federal appeals court has ruled unconstitutional a state law banning panhandling in public places. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court on Wednesday agreed with a lower court’s opinion last year that the law violates First Amendment protections for free speech. The case stems from the arrest of two Grand Rapids men arrested in 2011 for begging. The appellate opinion says the law “would chill a substantial amount of First Amendment-protected activity.” It added that Michigan’s interest in preventing fraud can be better served by a more narrowly tailored statute.
Detroit Free Press

Gregg Matthews fancies himself a lumbering Star Wars character of sorts as he treks along a popular Florida beach. He wears stout hiking sandals on the squishy sand and uses ski poles for balance as he shoulders a 40-pound backpack, a blue-orb with 15 cameras extending over his head. “It attracts a lot of attention,” Matthews said about all of his gear, while walking along Panama City Beach. Matthews and his trekking partner, Chris Officer, are contracted through Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, to gather images for Google Maps. They have already walked more than 200 miles of Florida beachfront, each logging up to 7.5 miles a day with the camera orb. Each camera on the orb takes a shot every 2.5 seconds as they walk. Their quest: to create panoramic views to place online of every Florida beach — similar to the Internet giant’s Street View — which has taken photos of everything from ordinary homes and businesses to world-famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State building.
Miami Herald

He may be the son of TV's "Judge Judy," but Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy's chances of winning a $5 million defamation suit against his political archenemy aren't getting high ratings. He'll have to prove Putnam Sheriff Donald Smith was intentionally misleading when he said a man charged with rape lived in Levy's home and he accused Levy of trying to undermine the investigation. "There's very little chance Levy will prevail on the defamation lawsuit unless he has evidence to prove Smith acted with malice," Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman said Thursday. "Smith would have to know the allegations he was making are untrue."
USA Today

Using infographical maps to represent data is nothing new, but London-based designer Yanko Tsvetkov, through his site, has taken this common form in a new direction byreleasing a series of both funny and thought-provoking prejudice maps. Instead of displaying political borders or statistics, his maps make tongue-in-cheek representations of social, cultural and political stereotypes.
Bored Panda


Daily PressThis August Open Door Award goes to Newport News Circuit Court Judge Timothy S. Fisher, who denied a joint motion by the defense and the prosecution to seal a DVD showing the police interrogation of the defendant in a murder case. Although the motion was unopposed, Judge Fisher refused to seal the DVD, citing the Virginia Supreme Court ruling earlier this year (Daily Press vs. Commonwealth) in which the justices said a "compelling government interest" must be present to seal records and exhibits in a trial. In particular, Fisher correctly noted that the Supreme Court ruling had stressed using other means to ensure that the jury is not tainted by the contents of the DVD.

Times-DispatchPolitically explosive investigations in Virginia are proliferating at a rate that makes bunny rabbits look almost celibate. The latest inquiry concerns the Office of the Attorney General. State Inspector General Michael Morehart is looking into whether one of the lawyers in that office was out of bounds when she gave legal advice to a private company embroiled in a dispute with Virginia landowners over mineral rights. Sharon Pigeon’s emails to attorneys for Consol Energy were unusual enough to draw a sharp rebuke from a federal magistrate.

Virginian-Pilot: Given enough technical savvy, computing power and time, email can be made secure. Not only from hackers and identity thieves, but from the prying eyes of government. Washington considers that a threat. Two major encrypted email providers have now shut their doors, citing pressure from federal officials. What kind of pressure, or to what end, remains unknown because the companies are under orders not to tell anyone. And federal officials, as The Guardian newspaper reported, declined to comment. The fact that government pressure could be deployed in such a fashion is disturbing enough and not just to Lavabit's 410,000 users. But to then threaten the businesses' officers with jail for discussing the episode smacks of something even more insidious.