Transparency News 8/5/19



August 5, 2019


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state & local news stories


"The city should tackle the problem by simply bolstering its network security and training staff to better deflect phishing attempts."

Portsmouth officials say they’re being attacked regularly by internet fraudsters, and to guard their workplace, they want to make it harder for potential offenders to access public information. But government watchdogs, alarmed by Portsmouth’s efforts, say doing so would only make it harder for Virginians to hold public agencies accountable. the city has come up with a loose set of proposals to change the rules that regulate public access to government records. The changes would require people to provide a state ID when asking for data on more than five employees, allow government bodies to require written requests and allow citizens who write to government to opt out of having their “personal identifiable information” released through public-records requests. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government — a nonprofit whose aim is to promote access to government — said the city should tackle the problem by simply bolstering its network security and training staff to better deflect phishing attempts.
The Virginian-Pilot

Warren County Supervisor Tom Sayre’s civil defamation case against Jennifer McDonald, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority executive director, was continued to Sept. 11 after 12 witnesses’ testimonies spanned nearly five hours Friday in Warren County General District Court.  Sayre’s defamation claim stems from a June 15, 2017, incident in which a rock was thrown through the front door of McDonald’s home. During the investigation of that incident, a note was found on McDonald’s lawn containing directions on how to carry out the crime and listing Sayre’s phone number at the end.   Sayre’s claim is that McDonald planted the note with intentions of framing him because he questioned the EDA’s workforce housing project, which is one of several avenues McDonald is accused of using as an embezzlement scheme in a $17.6 million civil lawsuit filed by the authority. 
The Northern Virginia Daily

What would be the biggest economic development project in Richmond’s history will land in front of the City Council on Monday, setting in motion a review that could change the trajectory of the city for years to come. The $1.5 billion proposal would replace the Richmond Coliseum and redevelop a swath of publicly owned downtown real estate — but only if it clears the nine-member council that has vowed a thorough vetting. The process begins Monday, when Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney will formally introduce the plans at a special meeting of the council. How did we get here? February 2018 — After 90 days, the city received one response to its North of Broad Redevelopment solicitation. Who submitted it? NH District Corp., Farrell’s group. The Stoney administration began reviewing the proposal but declined to release it, citing an exemption in the state’s Freedom of Information Act that allows a locality to withhold documents that could harm its bargaining position.
Richmond Times-Dispatch


stories of national interest

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller wasn't getting an immigration regulation he wanted. So he sent a series of scorching emails to top immigration officials, calling the department an "embarrassment" for not acting faster. Homeland Security to bar legal immigrants from obtaining green cards if they receive certain government benefits. The rule will likely be released in the coming days, according to a pair of current and former Trump officials briefed on the timeline. The emails, which POLITICO obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, shed new light on how aggressively Miller has pressured the Department of Homeland Security to move faster on regulations to limit immigration. Critics say the new rule will be used to shore up Trump's political base in the coming election year, and that it's an illegitimate tool to reduce legal immigration.

Detroit officials repeatedly mischaracterized the true nature of city fundraising efforts on behalf of a nonprofit run by a woman with close ties to Mayor Mike Duggan, newly-released documents reveal. Ever since an initial Free Press investigation revealed city fundraising and grant support for the Make Your Date nonprofit in April, administration officials have downplayed fundraising by the city, saying they were limited to only a few initial attempts before withdrawing and allowing others to take over the effort. But documents originally requested by the newspaper months ago under a Freedom of Information Act request show staffers from the city development office were engaged in meetings and correspondence with potential donors as late as November 2018 — several years into the operation of the nonprofit.
Detroit Free Press

Three years after the D.C. Council passed the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, the Metropolitan Police Department says it’s finally implemented every provision—including detailed data collection for all uses of force and police stops. Both MPD and the District say detailed stop and frisk data collected between July 22 and Aug. 18 will be made available to the public in September.  The release of the stop and frisk data has been a long time coming. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of D.C. filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for NEAR Act stop and frisk data in Feb. 2017, and later, along with Black Lives Matter D.C. and the Stop Police Terror Project D.C., sued the city in May 2018 to access information.
Washington City Paper




editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"Officials may be adhering to the letter of the Virginia FOIA, but certainly not the spirit of [the] law."

In an article published on July 19, The Pilot outlined what the paper has been able to obtain and the information it has thus far been denied. Reporters filed about five dozen records requests, half of which have been granted in part or full, a quarter of which were denied and the remainder which were pending at the time of publication. Granted were those seeking unobtrusive details about the building, the basic employment specifications of the suspect and past active-shooting training conducted by the city for public employees. Pilot reporters were told there is no surveillance footage from Building 2 and that the city paid about $500,000 to have it cleaned after the incident. But members of the Virginia Beach Police Department declined to release a host of information citing an option in the Virginia Freedom of Information Act that allows law enforcement to retain information as part of an ongoing investigation. And the city has cited the law’s personnel exemption to deny requests for employee information. In doing so, officials may be adhering to the letter of the Virginia FOIA, but certainly not the spirit of a law that states at its outset, “The affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy since at all times the public is to be the beneficiary of any action taken at any level of government.” It’s essential this information is public so that the community can review it and learn from it.
The Virginian-Pilot