Transparency News 8/27/14

Wednesday, August 27, 2014  

State and Local Stories

The trial of Virginia's last governor on federal corruption charges involving $177,000 of gifts and loans to family members continues isn't changing current Gov. Terry McAuliffe's stance that a crackdown on gifts is long overdue. “Nobody should be giving you gifts, why is anybody giving you gifts," McAuliffe said, during a visit to Newport News to announce a 500-job expansion at the auto parts firm Continental. "Outside of ceremonial keys or hats and things like that, he shouldn’t be involved in that," McAuliffe said, when asked about former Gov. Bob Mcdonnell's trial. "You’re a public servant, your job is to serve the public, and you should not open the door to any questions to ethics by people who have improperly given you gifts,” he added.
Daily Press

Lobbyists spent 10 percent less wining and dining Virginia lawmakers during this year’s session compared to the previous year, but it’s unclear if the slight dip is a result of the scandal over gifts received by former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his family. While overall spending declined from $701,144 adjusted for inflation to $639,739, the number of events reported increased 15 percent from 804 to 925. The data comes from an analysis released Tuesday by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.
Washington Post

Caroline County officials may have found a new way to collect owed personal property taxes from the county’s biggest debtors. At several meetings during the past few months, the Board of Supervisors have discussed publishing the names of people who have not paid their taxes for 2008 to 2013 in the newspaper and on the county’s website. At its Tuesday meeting, the board voted to move forward with publishing the names, but will continue to discuss whether it will be all the names, or just a certain amount, such as the top 100 or 500 names.
Free Lance-Star

A Shenandoah County supervisor and its sheriff on Tuesday sparred over claims that leaders turned down a "no-cost" option for a local jail. At the Board of Supervisors meeting, Sheriff Timothy Carter responded to Chairman David Ferguson's questions about the statements in a local newspaper that elected leaders rejected an offer to build a new jail with federal assets forfeiture money. The chairman has repeatedly refuted Carter's claims and asked the sheriff to respond. "My personal opinion is we need to move on," Carter said. "That's mine, too," Ferguson said. However, Carter and Ferguson spent the next 10 minutes going back and forth about the sheriff's statements.
Northern Virginia Daily

National Stories

The federal judiciary this month removed years of court records from its online archives, drawing concern from attorneys, journalists, researchers and open-record advocates who rely on remote access to files. Court files that are no longer available on PACER include cases from the U.S. courts of appeals for the Second, Seventh, Eleventh and Federal circuits.  Want to access a case filed in the Second Circuit before Jan. 1, 2010? You now must send an email or written request to the court clerks office to obtain the records. The cost: $30 for the entire file, which will be sent by email. (PACER costs are 10 cents per page. Opinions, however, are free.)

The chief of the Jonesboro, Arkansas police resigned on Monday, three days after being suspended by the mayor for making derogatory comments on Facebook about a local news reporter he called "smelly" and a backer of marijuana smoking.

Activists groups and two newspapers sued on Monday to try and prevent Oklahoma prison officials from blocking what can be seen by witnesses to executions, in a lawsuit prompted by the state screening off its death chamber in a botched execution in April. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma, Guardian U.S. and Oklahoma Observer are demanding that journalists and witnesses be permitted to view the execution from the time a prisoner enters the chamber until its conclusion, without interruption.



As states move to hide details of government deals with Wall Street, and as politicians come up with new arguments to defend secrecy, a study released earlier this month revealed that many government information officers block specific journalists they don’t like from accessing information. The news comes as 47 federal inspectors general sent a letter to lawmakers criticizing “serious limitations on access to records” that they say have “impeded” their oversight work.
David Sirota, Times-Dispatch

What’s this, another McDonnell column? Oh, yes. Won’t be the last either. For those who think the press has gone thermonuclear in its coverage of the former governor’s corruption trial, please pause to remember that this is the first time in Virginia history that a chief executive has been indicted on criminal charges. If Bob McDonnell is convicted of bribery or bank fraud, his forwarding address could be a federal penitentiary. Virginia stories don’t get much bigger than this one. That won’t satisfy readers who say we’re giving the case too much ink. An exasperated retired teacher, for example, wrote to me last week, politely begging for an end to the intimate details of the case. “When I read the articles on the McDonnell trial in the Pilot, I feel like I am reading The National Enquirer,” she lamented. “The details concerning the testimony sound like a script from the Jerry Springer Show or Dr. Phil. “… Do we really need to know that the governor made his wife spend her inheritance on bills instead of stock for the children? Just because information is for public consumption doesn’t mean we necessarily need to lay it all out in the paper. If the public wants to know all the sordid details, let them research it themselves.” Frankly, letting the public do its own research on an important criminal case – without news stories – would be impossible. There simply aren’t enough seats in the Richmond courtroom.
Kerry Dougherty, Virginian-Pilot