Transparency News 8/7/18



August 7, 2018


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state & local news stories


"I want you to have the information and make a decision on your own.”

It was a war of words inside City Council Chambers on Monday, August 6, as the crowd and councilors argued over how the interim city manager was chosen. A fiery back-and-forth over how council chose Murphy as the interim city manager and why candidate Sidney Zemp turned down the position. Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she wanted the public to be able to see Zemp's cover letter and resume, but that did not happen. “There are people within this community who say I was trying to sway your opinions,” says Walker. “That's not how I work. I want you to have the information and make a decision on your own.” Walker posted a text message exchange between her and Zemp on Facebook in which she asked him if she could release his resume to the public, but he expressed opposition to it until after a contract was signed.

Abingdon Town Council decided Monday to settle with plaintiff Kevin Sandenaw in pending [FOIA] litigation that involves three former council members and a former town attorney. Sandenaw filed a lawsuit last year in Washington County Circuit Court accusing former council members Cathy Lowe, Rick Humphreys and Bob Howard and former Town Attorney Deb Icenhour of violating the Freedom of Information Act by sending a letter asking for a judge’s legal opinion without notifying the public or their fellow council members. The original litigation named the Town Council as a defendant. On Sept. 19, Judge Danny Bird ruled in favor of Sandenaw. The Abingdon Town Council later voted to appeal the decision. Following a closed session Monday, the council approved a settlement agreement with Sandenaw that drops the Town Council from the case but agrees that each party shall pay their own attorney fees.
Bristol Herald Courier

Fredericksburg City Public Schools Superintendent David Melton oversees the region’s smallest school system, but collects a larger paycheck than his counterparts in surrounding counties. The Free Lance–Star submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for contracts of superintendents in the immediate Fredericksburg region after the Stafford County School Board announced last month its signing of the school system’s fourth leader in 11 years. Incoming Stafford Superintendent Scott Kizner, 60, will collect an annual base salary of $226,000 when he starts Sept. 1, making him the highest-paid schools chief in the county’s history.
Free Lance-Star

A social media platform can be compelled to divulge account information belonging to a woman who anonymously chatted online about plans for last summer’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, a federal magistrate judge ruled Monday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero’s 28-page order says the woman’s First Amendment rights to anonymous speech don’t outweigh the importance of disclosing her identity to plaintiffs’ attorneys suing over the rally’s violence. Leaked Discord messages indicate the woman, identified only as “Jane Doe” in court papers, likely was involved in planning the event last August, the magistrate said.
The Daily Progress


stories of national interest

A lawsuit that accused Colorado regulators of quietly and illegally concocting a policy to police doctors who recommend medical marijuana to patients was entirely hidden from public view during a nearly three-year court battle, secreted behind a judge's order to keep it that way, The Denver Post has found. The lawsuit is just one of thousands, including felony criminal cases, that a Denver Post investigation found were hidden from the public, some of them for years and all the result of judges' orders that are also suppressed.
Canon City Daily Record

In a Friday afternoon news dump, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released 71 pages of documents related to the agency’s use of Christopher Steele as a confidential human source (CHS). Judicial Watch fought for more than a year to force the government to comply with its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to the work the former British spy—and author of the salacious and unverified Steele dossier—did for the FBI since January 1, 2016.
The Federalist

The FBI doesn’t want the public to know more about how its agents pose as journalists during undercover investigations. But, in a federal court case, Justice Department lawyers confirmed the most significant criticism of the controversial practice. The government acknowledged in a court filing that FBI agents who pretend to be journalists create a chilling effect, making it harder for real journalists to gain trust and cooperation from sources. The astonishing admission came as the FBI attempted to fend off litigation from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has filed requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Intercept




editorials & columns


You may be reading this on an electronic device or in the print paper with the aid of a nearby lamp. Our modern lifestyles demand the availability of electricity, so much so, it has become almost essential. That’s why decisions made by our area’s sole electrical provider — Dominion Energy Virginia — affects us all, regardless of whether we realize it on a day-by-day basis. As a public utility company, Dominion should be open to having its numbers and plans reviewed by regulators and by the public it serves.
Daily Press

Pittsylvania County residents deserve transparency from the supervisors about the DSS troubles. If the board decides to take such a step — and we believe there are arguments in favor of their doing so — then the board needs to enumerate its reasons and rationale. Specifics, not generalities, as to the problems within the local office are needed so the public can have full faith in the actions their elected representatives decided to take.
Register & Bee