Transparency News, 8/3/20


August 3, 2020
follow us on Twitter and Facebook



state & local news stories
"The county passed an emergency ordinance in March declaring its offices are no longer obligated to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests within that state-mandated deadline."
Attorneys at the University of Virginia’s First Amendment Clinic will represent Charlottesville Tomorrow in an effort to obtain public records from Albemarle County Public Schools. Charlottesville Tomorrow on July 15 requested public documents from the school division regarding its reopening plans. Those requests have yet to be filled, though state law requires public bodies to respond to such requests within five working days, which was July 22.  The school division said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow that it would do its “very best to get this information to you as soon as possible,” but that it did not have to respond by the statutory deadline. The county passed an emergency ordinance in March declaring its offices are no longer obligated to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests within that state-mandated deadline.
Charlottesville Tomorrow

Less than 24 hours after a deputy in Grand Ledge, Michigan, fatally shot a suspect on July 14, Michigan State Police and the Eaton County Sheriff's Office released neighborhood surveillance video and body camera footage of the killing.  But while police in other states regularly release video of officer-involved shootings or controversial arrests, local and Virginia State Police rarely do, even in cases when they say the video shows that the officers acted properly.  Virginia's FOIA law allows police to release information such as body and cruiser camera video as well as 911 audio, plus disciplinary reports about officers and their personnel records. But it doesn't require them to. Because of that broad exemption that other states don't have, the information often isn't made public. That's despite the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council encouraging police to adopt a "predisposition to disclose" policy.
The Winchester Star

Would-be casino operators have gotten two local city governments on board with the idea of major gambling resorts. They won conditional approval from the state legislature. Now, they’ve just got to convince the citizens. Transparency concerns were central to the earlier opposition and petition efforts in Norfolk. Efforts by The Pilot to review early-stage gambling license applications made to the Lottery Board earlier this year by both Rush Street and the Pamunkey Tribe were rebuffed by the board. Representatives cited state law that allows them to keep such documents secret from the public indefinitely. (The exemption, like many in the state Freedom of Information Act, is discretionary, meaning the state can choose to release it. But the lottery board chose to keep it secret.)
The Virginian-Pilot

The Loudoun Times-Mirror through the Freedom of Information Act requested video from the county courthouse grounds overnightJuly 21-July 22, 2020 – the night the Confederate monument was removed. The statue, known as the Silent Sentinel, had been on the grounds since 1908. This roughly eight-minute video has been sped up for expediency.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board, which has seen meetings repeatedly attract hundreds of angry citizens and called in police to keep order over the past few years, has created a four-member committee to reexamine the board’s public engagement process. Among the priorities identified by the committee at a virtual meeting Monday was the need to examine the public’s ability to address the board rather than just DEQ on all regulations and controversial new permits, transparency issues surrounding advice provided to the board by the Office of the Attorney General and the need to identify at-risk communities comprehensively rather than during specific permit deliberations.  Of the many concerns raised by the public over the past few years, nine consistent issues were identified by the committee, ranging from providing earlier public notice of pending permit action and longer formal public comment periods to increasing public access to DEQ staff and strengthening outreach procedures, particularly with the board, which is largely isolated from the public despite serving as a citizen body. 
Virginia Mercury
stories of national interest
"The law requires the release of footage only from officers who are directly involved in using force."
Authorities in the District made public for the first time on Friday videos from police body cameras and surveillance cameras of two separate fatal shootings by officers in 2018, and said those cases were ruled justified in the use of deadly force. The videos were released under the provisions of an emergency law passed in June by the D.C. Council amid protests nationwide following the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The law requires authorities to make body camera footage public after fatal shootings and in other instances of deadly force by police, an effort to increase accountability. Authorities also must identify officers involved in fatal police interactions. The law requires the release of footage only from officers who are directly involved in using force. Attorneys for the families of two of the men killed questioned why police initially released short versions of the videos and why videos from additional officers were not made public to show varying perspectives. Police said full-length videos of two of the incidents will be put online.
The Washington Post

The fired former director of Kentucky’s unemployment office told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday that officials at the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet failed to quickly respond to reports of a data breach in the state’s unemployment system in April. Muncie McNamara — a non-merit staffer who donated to and volunteered for Beshear’s campaign and was hired to run the unemployment office in December — was fired in May after months of backlogs in the state’s unemployment system as a record number of Kentuckians filed jobless claims because of COVID-19. McNamara said officials did nothing about an unemployment data breach that allowed some people who logged onto the system to see other people’s sensitive information for at least a day.

Maine’s top law enforcement officials attempted Thursday to demystify the workings of a secretive state police intelligence unit that has come under intense scrutiny following a whistleblower lawsuit alleging illegal spying on citizens and a data breach that exposed thousands of the agency’s confidential intelligence reports. In a conference room in a low-slung government building in Augusta, managers of the Maine Information and Analysis Center presented an overview of the agency’s duties, took extensive questions from the media and showed two examples of cases where the center provided assistance.
editorials & columns
"Even the mistaken conflation of journalists with police investigators can directly impact news gatherers’ ability to do their work."
A judge’s order that The Seattle Times and other media must turn over unpublished content to the police is a blow to independent journalism. The order imperils journalists documenting this summer’s historic protests and sends the wrong message about the media as a check on government power. Police want the journalists’ images to help identify suspects who set fire to police cars and stole police firearms during a May 30 protest in downtown Seattle. Certainly, those involved in the crimes should be held accountable. But even the mistaken conflation of journalists with police investigators can directly impact news gatherers’ ability to do their work.
The Daily Progress