Transparency News 8/8/13


Thursday, August 8, 2013
State and Local Stories


A promotional products company owned by the husband of a Henrico County School Board member has received at least $130,178 in payments from the school district since the 2005-2006 school year, according to financial records obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. TechnoMarketing Inc., owned by Joe Winston, husband of School Board member Diana D. Winston, was paid to provide a wide variety of products, including stickers, sunglasses, T-shirts, lunch bags, mugs, lanyards, pens and highlighters.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has refinanced his private residence and restructured loans on other properties as he repays a businessman and donor who showered him and his family with gifts. Court and government records reveal real estate transactions that could free up cash while McDonnell and his family return gifts and loans totaling more than $150,000 to Jonnie Williams, the CEO of an obscure nutritional supplement maker who is the central figure in a political scandal that began to emerge in April, when the governor initiated the series of property transactions.
Roanoke Times

Some people call them flowers of democracy. Others call them weeds of political pollution.Whatever one thinks of the campaign signs and placards that appear along the roads of Fairfax County, expect to see a lot fewer of them. Last month, county officials launched a new program in which nonviolent inmates at the county jail hit the streets four days a week to remove illegal signs. With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the message is no longer in the median.
The Gazette

National Stories

A federal judge in New York has rejected a bid to restore access to National Security Council records under the Freedom of Information Act. U.S. District Court Judge Eric Vitaliano, who sits in Brooklyn, said in a ruling dated Tuesday that he saw no reason to depart from a 1996 D.C. Circuit ruling that found files beyond the reach of FOIA on the grounds that the NSC's primary role is to advise the president.

Champaign, Ill., City Attorney Fred Stavins said on Tuesday night that the city does not plan to appeal an appellate court's decision that it must turn over text messages to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request The News-Gazette filed in 2011. Stavins said there are "very few documents" to produce, but the city will comply with a ruling that text messages sent and received on a council member's private device during a city council meeting are public records.

A lawyer for James Risen, an author and a reporter for The New York Times, has asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to withdraw a subpoena requiring him to testify about a confidential source, in light of the Justice Department’s new guidelines for obtaining information from journalists in investigations. On July 19, a federal appeals court ruled that Mr. Risen must testify in the criminal trial of a former C.I.A. official, Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking classified information.
New York Times

A New York City family had no basis to sue a photographer who surreptitiously captured images of his neighbors from his own apartment window and later displayed and sold the same images at a public art exhibition, a New York trial court judge ruled Monday. While New York's civil rights law protected the Foster family and Svenson’s other subjects from invasions of privacy for commercial purposes, Judge Eileen A. Rakower dismissed the case after deciding that Svenson’s work was an artistic expression protected by the First Amendment, New York state law and court precedents.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A federal judge has ordered that several documents be unsealed in a lawsuit between Idaho inmates and Corrections Corporation of America just days before a hearing is set over whether the private prison company should be held in contempt of court. Inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center, represented by the ACLU of Idaho, brought the lawsuit in 2010, contending the CCA-run prison was so violent that prisoners called it "Gladiator School."
Associated Press

Following cries of foul play unconstitutionality (by hiding how evidence is obtained the DEA denies defendants a fair trial), the Justice Department Wednesday said it would look into the covert unit known as SOD  (Special Operations Division). A DOJ investigation hardly satisfies privacy and civil liberties advocates; representative agents from almost every government law enforcement agency, including the NSA, CIA and FBI, helped with SOD programs — is it possible that the DOJ genuinely only heard about the shady unit when Reuters published its investigation?

Weeks of revelations about secret U.S. surveillance programs could stymie progress on negotiations over new laws and regulations meant to beef up the country's defenses against the growing threat of cyber attacks, cyber security experts say. Current and former cybersecurity officials say they worry the ongoing disclosures about secret National Security Agency spying programs by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden could trigger hasty or rash actions by Congress or the private sector, hampering efforts to enact an effective cyber policy.

The New York City Police Department has agreed to purge a database of names and addresses of people stopped by police under the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program but later cleared of criminal wrongdoing. The department will scrub the information as part of a settlement ending a lawsuit filed in 2010 in state court by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which announced the agreement on Wednesday.

Mississippi State Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes is urging legislators who serve on a state watchdog panel to release a report on state port expansion. The Legislature's Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review has completed the report on the port's management of $570 million in federal funds for restoration and expansion. A big question has been whether the work will produce the 1,200 jobs required in exchange for federal funding provided through the Community Development Block Grant Program. PEER Director Max Arinder said the report has been on the committee's agenda since June, but no decision on its release has been made. PEER met Tuesday without official action, but convenes again this morning.
(Gulfport) Sun Herald


Dick Hammerstrom, Free Lance-Star: I'm not aware of other localities in Virginia coming forward to support the Hanover plan, at least not publicly--maybe because they realize that being a public servant is not about them. What they should be doing is finding ways to better serve the public and share those thoughts with them rather than hiding from them.

Register & Bee: Early on, members of the Board of Supervisors knew — or they should have known — that their tough stand against Hudson and the ACLU was built on shaky ground. The county School Board, the city’s School Board and Danville City Council have all managed to avoid getting sued by the ACLU over their members praying before conducting the public’s business. But in Chatham, supervisors picked a fight that they were told they would lose, and now that they’ve lost that fight, they have put the taxpayers on the hook for what was nothing more than a costly distraction and a legal embarrassment. What is it about the board of supervisors that caused them to pick a fight that they couldn’t win, resulting in being forced to pay legal fees they can’t afford? That’s the real question that needs to be answered.

Norm Leahy, Bearing Drift: Ethics and gifting. They are all the rage in Virginia politics now. Editorial pages are calling for reforms. Ken Cuccinelli has asked Gov. Robert McDonnell to convene a special legislative session on ethics reform, but the governor prefers to wait for the next regular session in January. House Republican leaders have laid out their ideas for reform, and Chris Saxman has put a proposal on the table to ban gifts entirely and tighten reporting requirements. Bill Bolling has released a laundry list of reform ideas. With all this talk, something, at some point, will be done. And with revelations that Virginia's alcohol control agency has a possible gift problem of its own, it's clear that whatever reforms are discussed have to address the entire apparatus of state government.What will those reforms be?