Transparency News 8/30/18

state & local news stories


“It seems to us that anyone, including a citizen, could request a copy of the By-Laws under a FOIA request. They would have to be produced and given to the requestor."

A spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service said the agency is looking into how an unredacted security questionnaire filled out years ago by congressional candidate Abigail Spanberger was publicly released. A GOP research firm submitted a Freedom of Information Act request July 9 to the National Personnel Records Center and received a reply July 30 from the Postal Service, where Spanberger once worked as a postal inspector before becoming a CIA agent in 2006. Spanberger, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th, as he seeks a third term. There’s no evidence that the PAC and research firm it worked with did anything wrong. Government release of the security questionnaire Spanberger completed is illegal, said Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors, a law firm specializing in national security law and information and privacy law. Based on reporting by BuzzFeed News, he said, the release could have been a bureaucratic breakdown, because the records appear to have been sent from the National Personnel Records Center to the Postal Service.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Bristol Virginia City Councilman Doug Fleenor said through tears Wednesday that city leaders may have done him a favor by taking steps to remove him from council, which he said he likely won’t fight. The day after city leaders took steps to remove Fleenor from council, City Manager/City Attorney Randy Eads again refused to discuss the reasons for the move and refused to release a copy of the document presented to Fleenor.  The Herald Courier requested a copy of the document presented to Fleenor under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act late Tuesday. When asked via email Wednesday to define malfeasance and neglect of duty, Eads wrote that he considers the question an FOIA request. “Currently, we are in the process of reviewing FOIA to determine if the [city] Charter’s language in [Section] 4.07 would require the City to keep the document private,” Eads wrote. “The City Charter seems to indicate this matter would be private unless the council member in question consents to it being in public. The issue is whether or not the Charter language trumps FOIA.”
Bristol Herald Courier

Louisa County leaders want to know who leaked news of a planned industrial park, as critics question the location and cost. “I’m very concerned that information leaked,” Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral district) said at the Louisa County Industrial Development Authority’s Aug. 23 meeting. “I want to find out how it leaked. It either leaked from someone who had a non-disclosure agreement with the county, or it leaked from the board of supervisors.” The county won’t reveal yet how much it paid for options to purchase property in the affected area, which stretches from Shannon Hill Road on the east to Roundabout Road on the west, and north to West Old Mountain Road. The options are valid for six months, with the first one set to expire in December.
The Central Virginian

Email records obtained by the Star-Tribune through FOIA requests from Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services Director Sherry Flanagan from August 2017 indicated Flanagan was ‘fearful’ of county administrator David Smitherman and worried her board would be eliminated. On August 15, 2017, Brenda Robertson, Administrative Assistant/Legal Assistant for County Attorney Vaden Hunt emailed Flanagan to, “please forward a copy of the DSS bylaws for my review via email.” The email did not provide any other information. Flanagan replied the afternoon of August 15 and asked why Hunt was requesting the bylaws but did not receive a reply. A week later on August 22, Flanagan replied and again wanted to know why Hunt was requesting them. A day before on August 21, she asks the same question to DSS counsel Tim Fisk. “It seems to us that anyone, including a citizen, could request a copy of the By-Laws under a FOIA request. They would have to be produced and given to the requestor. There appears to be nothing exceptional or concerning to me upon a “quick” read,” Fisk said in reply. He also noted that unless there were any other questions or concerns, he would send the bylaws to Hunt that afternoon.


national stories of interest

A new Department of Energy order that could be used to withhold information from a federal nuclear safety board and prevent the board from overseeing worker safety at nuclear facilities appears to violate longstanding provisions in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, the board’s members said Tuesday. Members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, both Democrats and Republicans, were united in their criticism of the Energy Department’s order, published in mid-May. It prevents the board from accessing sensitive information, imposes additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandates that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board.

The Austin, Texas, man ordered by a federal judge to stop sharing free blueprints for building 3D-printed guns announced Tuesday that instead, he's selling the plans. Buyers can name their price. Attorneys general in nine states have sued to stop activist Cody Wilson and his company, Defense Distributed, from sharing the blueprints for the guns. "Anyone who wants these files is going to get them," Wilson said at a news conference in Austin after years of fighting with the courts to give the blueprints away online. "That will never be interrupted. The free exchange of these ideas will never be interrupted."

A good-government group pushing for a major overhaul of Missouri's ethics rules has received more than $325,000 in contributions from two dark money organizations. A Post-Dispatch review of campaign finance records shows Clean Missouri, which is backing the Amendment 1 referendum on the November ballot, took in $312,000 from the Action Now Initiative and $13,287 from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. The two groups, classified under federal tax law as social welfare organizations, do not disclose their donors, raising questions about who is helping to finance the ballot initiative.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A voting rights organization is behind Freedom of Information Act requests to Michigan clerks for ballots from the 2016 election. The national Priorities USA Foundation is behind the requests for information, a spokesperson confirmed. In a statement, the group said it was undertaking a research effort.  The group contracted with an outside company to make the FOIA requests.   In Michigan that resulted in a series of Freedom of Information Act requests that alarmed local clerks. A person identifying themselves only as "Emily" requested information from the 2016 election like poll books, voted ballots and absentee voting envelopes, including peoples' signatures, from clerks across the state. In cases where she sent payment, "Emily" blacked out the address on her checks.