Transparency News 8/2/13


Friday, August 2, 2013
State and Local Stories


Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle is defending his department's refusal to allow some issues of a monthly publication into the local jail. Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit against Stolle and 10 of his employees earlier this week. It said at least 67 magazines or informational brochure packets mailed to prisoners in the Virginia Beach Correctional Center were returned. The publication, which reports on prisoner rights and criminal justice matters, claims the censorship violates its free-speech and due process rights.

National Stories

Two months after Connecticut's legislature rushed to conceal materials from the December school shooting in Newtown, a state task force took the first steps Thursday toward weighing whether state law can be changed to better balance crime victims' privacy and the public's right to access records related to grisly crimes. In part to quell criticism from advocates for government transparency, the law blocking the release of records from the shooting included a provision to create a diverse 17-member panel, appointed by various officials and groups, to grapple with a thorny issue for which there was little time in the frenzied final days of the legislative session.
The Hartford Courant

second criminal defendant is claiming his rights are violated by "In God We Trust" emblazoned on the Anderson County Courthouse, in Clinton, Tenn. Floyd Hammond Jr., 65, of Knoxville is held on drug and theft charges. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported Hammond's lawyer filed a motion Tuesday, seeking dismissal of the charges. The attorney is David A. Stuart, who filed a similar motion a week ago on behalf of another client, Kenneth Darrin Fisher.  The motions claim the placing of the national motto on the sides of the courthouse render it "a temple of fundamentalist self-styled Christianity."
Bristol Herald Courier

The Senate Judiciary Committee strengthened the proposed federal shield law yesterday by incorporating some of the Justice Department's recommendations on protecting journalists, but then delayed a final vote on the bill. Committee members approved a so-called manager’s amendment, proposed by bill sponsor Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), by unanimous consent at a meeting this morning. The committee is expected to return to the shield bill after the Senate’s August recess.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Government workers in the city of Seattle have been advised that the terms "citizen" and "brown bag" are potentially offensive and may no longer be used in official documents and discussions. KOMO-TV reports that the city's Office of Civil Rights instructed city workers in a recent internal memo to avoid using the words because some may find them offensive. "Luckily, we've got options," Elliott Bronstein of the Office for Civil Rights wrote in the memo obtained by the station. "For 'citizens,' how about 'residents?'"  In an interview with Seattle's KIRO Radio, Bronstein said the term "brown bag" has been used historically as a way to judge skin color.
Fox News

A New Jersey archivist has found a letter from the sixth president, but the library isn't sure how it got there. Plainfield Public Library's Jeff Wassen recently found the letter from John Quincy Adams in the institution's historical collection. In it, Adams declines an invitation to a Massachusetts anti-slavery society event. The letter is from the late 1830s, when Adams was in Congress after his presidency ended. While he said no to attending the event, Adams wrote that he was glad to see the abolition movement spreading, saying "I rejoice that the defense of the cause of human freedom is falling into younger and more vigorous hands."

The Texas Department of Public Safety said on Thursday it had withdrawn a subpoena for information from Twitter regarding two tweets about conservative Texas lawmakers, including Governor Rick Perry, and the passage of restrictive abortion regulations. The department had sought information, documents and records related to the Twitter accounts of Denise Romano of Austin and Michael Mayer of New York in an investigation into their tweets between July 17 and 19, the day before and after Perry signed the abortion bill into law.


Megan Rhyne, VCOG: Last week, the Hanover County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution that would recommend amending the Freedom of Information Act's meeting provisions. The resolution specifically directed the board's attorney to circulate the proposal to the Virginia Municipal League, Virginia Association of Counties, Virginia Press Association and us, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, for comment. We took up the invitation and submitted comments July 31. They are reprinted below. But before you read them -- and before you agree or disagree with them -- I want to take a moment to publicly thank the board for asking for our opinion.

Daily Press: A recent Daily Press story highlighted the practice of local governments to include severance payments in their contracts with chief administrators. The idea is that because city managers and county administrators are subject to the political whims of elected council members and supervisors, they ought to have a cushion to allow them to find another job if they are booted out. We understand that these top positions require considerable expertise and experience, and good managers are hard to come by. And if they are terminated early, they should be compensated for the term of their contract. But they shouldn't get a windfall.

News & Advance: Before Edward Snowden leaked information on the federal government’s cyber-snooping to The Washington Post and The Guardian, Americans pretty much assumed spooks and spies were afield on the Internet, but no one had any idea of the programs’ extent. Now we do, and the initial shock is morphing into public anger and congressional push back. We are only now becoming aware of just how little privacy we truly have in the America of the 21st century. But with that awareness has come welcome action in the House of Representatives: a legislative yanking-of-the-political-chain, if you will, that perhaps signals a reining in of the out-of-control security state.