Transparency News 8/25/14

Monday, August 25, 2014


State and Local Stories

The FOIA Council’s subcommittee on records meets today at 1:30 at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.

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.

Members of a newly formed regional transportation organization are moving forward with an option to operate independently of two existing transit groups inHampton Roads  — a move some critics and voting members say seemed forced by state legislative factions on the board….The vote to structure the new transportation accountability commission was not posted on the group's public agenda, catching some board members and attendees by surprise. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said while the commission did not violate any state meeting laws, the move could be potentially damaging as the group tries to engage the public about its goals and mission."
Daily Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has given its blessing to sectarian prayers, but moments of silence will continue to open meetings of the Amherst Town Council, at least for now. Prior to January 2014, members of clergy from churches in and around Amherst would deliver a short prayer invocation before the opening of town council meetings. The practice ceased in January when council meetings have been opened with moments of silence.
New Era-Progress

Charlottesville police are investigating the use of city money to pay a former electoral board member’s cellphone bill for more than three years after she left office, officials said Friday. The chairwoman of the city’s three-member electoral board handed over a copy of last month’s bill to city prosecutors Friday, more than four months after she said staff told Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones about the issue. “In hindsight, I probably should have delved a little deeper into the phone records at that point,” Jones wrote in response to a question asking why he did not approach Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta about the payments until the electoral board raised the issue this month.
Daily Progress

No cameras — still or video — are allowed in U.S. District Court where the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, enters its fifth week on Monday. But illustrators are allowed in the courtroom. Chris Kindred’s ink and watercolor sketch of the former governor on the witness stand gave Richmond Times-Dispatch readers their first glimpse inside the courtroom. Kindred, 22, is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s an only child and the first artist in his family.

The Virginia Department of State Police has refused to disclose the types of patrol rifles and other tactical weapons and vehicles it possesses in a decision criticized by civil liberty groups and open government advocates. The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Virginia Coalition of Open Government questioned why state police would not release basic descriptions of their taxpayer-funded firearms stock and equipment.

This year’s Isle of Wight County Fair will have the usual assortment of exhibits, music, rides and vendors. What it won’t have are places available for groups or individuals with political agendas, which have often had a presence at the annual festival. That doesn’t sit well with Del. Rick Morris (R-64), who has been refused a space. Last month he had requested a booth to both help raise money for CASA Southeast, as well as offer updates on legislation and information on issues in his district and the rest of Virginia. Morris added that he’d also be listening to visitors’ concerns. That plan was turned down by the Fair Committee, which is firm in its decision. “We’re pretty decided on not having political booths. That’s our stance,” said Danny Byrum, Fair chairman. “We’re about having family fun.” There are two parts, he added, that “drove us to that position. We got quite a few complaints from commercial vendors who said people were shying away from their booths to avoid the political guys who were hassling people in there.” Litter was the other reason. Morris sent letter on Aug. 14 to the Office of the Attorney General asking for an opinion about the policy that he maintains is “an infringement on Freedom of Speech and Assembly.”
Tidewater News

National Stories

Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan took the unusual step Saturday ofdemanding that television stations take down a campaign ad produced by his Democratic opponent, calling the 30-second spot “a desperate attempt to slander me.”
Washington Post


Tax inversions. Double Irish with a Dutch sandwich. Spinning off tangible assets into real estate investment trusts. Son-of-BOSS shelters. These are among the array of eye-glazingly complicated tax avoidance strategies adopted by America’s biggest companies. Each gets a moment in the sun when some enterprising journalist stumbles upon a particularly egregious example of its use; the public expresses outrage; policymakers denounce the behavior, which they themselves have incentivized; and then maybe Congress plays whack-a-mole trying to close the loophole. Then the public forgets, firms come up with inventively aggressive new strategies and the pattern repeats. Here’s a proposal to try to curb this cycle: Require all publicly traded companies to make their tax returns public. Period.
Catherine Rampell, Times-Dispatch

If it weren’t — literally — about life and death, the gamesmanship might be considered merely petty. Then again . . . Shawn Christopher Berry, 37, of Culpeper, died Aug. 9 at the Central Virginia Regional Jail. On Aug. 19, Virginia State Police announced they were investigating. The investigation is incomplete. Therefore, this editorial is not about the circumstances of the death. It is about how jail Superintendent F. Glenn Aylor responded to a reporter’s inquiry after the death. An editor from The Daily Progress’ sister newspaper in Madison County called Mr. Aylor on Aug. 18 checking on a tip about two deaths at the jail. He told her there had not been  two  deaths. The Daily Progress later placed follow-up calls. When specifically questioned about a death that, according to state police,  did  occur, Mr. Aylor had an explanation for his extraordinary statement. “She asked me if there were two deaths at the jail, and I said, ‘No, there haven’t been two deaths at the jail,’” he said. “I can’t help it if a reporter doesn’t know how to ask the question right,” he added. Asked how he thought the public might react to his omission in response to the reporter’s initial question, Mr. Aylor answered: “I could care less how the public feels about it.”
Daily Progress