Transparency News 8/26/13


Monday, August 26, 2013
State and Local Stories


The University of Virginia is kicking off a research initiative on data analysis and application that it hopes will be a model for future research institutes at the university. The Big Data Institute is a collaboration between different departments at the university that looks at ways to use what Rick Horwitz, UVa associate vice president for biosciences, calls the “overwhelming” streams of data collected by the government, corporations and academic researchers.
Roanoke Times

An aerial drone, a pilotless aircraft of the type that has aroused intense public discussion in recent months, crashed Saturday into the stands at a public event in Virginia that has also aroused heated discourse.
Washington Post

Fairfax has begun to post on its website, without cost or restriction, copies of letter opinions issued by its judges.  See  Kudos to Clerk John Frey, Chief Judge Dennis Smith, and all others involved in making this happen.

Chesterfield County has launched a website laying out information about the proposed meals offers the county’s take on the issues surrounding a series of ballot questions that will ask voters to approve bond issues for a new public-safety radio system and schools renovation and construction and to give the county board the authority to implement a meals tax of up to 2 percent.

Pittsylvania County supervisors said they are humbled and grateful after receiving a copy of the Harlan Bible from the Retired Judges of America. The gesture from the Baton Rouge, La., organization shows that supervisors have supporters across the nation in the legal fight with county resident Barbara Hudson and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia over sectarian public Christian prayer, said Tunstall Supervisor Tim Barber.
Register & Bee

Although the Fairfax County School Board faces projected budget deficits and each year asks the Board of Supervisors for more taxpayer money to fund its regular operations, it also has found a creative way to pay for projects and add items to classrooms: a fund filled with millions in leftover cash.
Washington Post

National Stories

The news organization Honolulu Civil Beat Wednesday announced the creation of a center to help journalists and private individuals pry information out of government agencies in Hawaii. The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, which will offer this assistance gratis, is funded in part by the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Ohana Fund. Pierre Omidyar is one of Civil Beat’s founders and also founded eBay.

Hell hath no fury like a hotel chain scorned by online review recourse. The review on TripAdvisor did more than alleviate the writer’s stress. It set off a whirlwind of negative attention for the hotel, and business suffered as a result. Hotel Quebec repeatedly asked Laurent Azoulay to take it down, suggesting that the punishment did not fit the crime, but each time he refused. So the hotel slapped him with a lawsuit—one for damages and lost profits to the tune of $95,000.

Confidential financial records involved in what has been dubbed “The Patent Trial of the Century” between Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. will remain sealed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Friday. “We recognize the importance of protecting the public’s interest in judicial proceedings and of facilitating its understanding of those proceedings,” wrote Circuit Judge Sharon Prost for the three-judge panel. “That interest, however, does not extend to mere curiosity about the parties’ confidential information where that information is not central to a decision on the merits. While protecting the public’s interest in access to the courts, we must remain mindful of the parties’ right to access those same courts upon terms which will not unduly harm their competitive interest.”
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

As a lobbyist in New York's statehouse, Stephen Acquario is doing pretty well. He pulls down $204,000 a year, more than the governor makes, gets a Ford Explorer as his company car and is afforded another special perk: Even though he's not a government employee, he is entitled to a full state pension. He's among hundreds of lobbyists in at least 20 states who get public pensions because they represent associations of counties, cities and school boards, an Associated Press review found. Legislatures granted them access decades ago on the premise that they serve governments and the public. In many cases, such access also includes state health care benefits.
Fox News


Times-Dispatch: As a general rule, government bodies should be subject to scrutiny by the press and the public. Freedom-of-information acts provide the usual mechanism for such scrutiny. Virginia’s State Corporation Commission is a government body. Yet it is exempt from Virginia’s FOIA. It shouldn’t be.

Dick Hammerstrom, Free Lance-Star: The state law requiring openness from public bodies can be confusing at times, primarily because it’s written in legal jargon and usually changes each year after the Virginia General Assembly injects its wisdom. A public body, as defined by the Code of Virginia, is every legislative body “of the Commonwealth” and includes city councils, boards of supervisors, school boards and planning commissions, among others. Here are a few myths.

Register & Bee: The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s reaction to the Roanoke River Basin Association-commissioned report of DMME’s uranium exploration regulatory program is very disappointing, although not unexpected, considering that DMME has given very little regard to public participation and transparency so far. Instead of a detailed written response addressing each identified instance of poor oversight and non-compliance by the regulated company, Virginia Uranium Inc., DMME has simply brushed off the public’s concerns.