Transparency News 8/9/13


Friday, August 9, 2013
State and Local Stories


A Virginia Beach radiologist lent $50,000 to a real estate corporation owned by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his sister in 2010 — the same year the doctor was offered an appointment to a state medical board. Paul Davis, who said he met McDonnell in church and has been friends with the governor for about 12 years, said he believes the appointment offer was unrelated to the financial assistance he provided the governor.
Washington Post

There is new information about what happened after a trooper slammed into a skateboarder at Virginia Commonwealth University in February. Video of the incident surfaced on YouTube last week and got the attention of superstar skateboarder Tony Hawk. CBS 6 News filed an official Freedom of Information Act request with state police last week to find out the protocol for trooper-involved accidents. In response to the request, state police outlined what polices and procedures are in place. For the most part, officials could not comment on specifics related to the incident since that information is “exempt from release under Title 2.2 Chapter 37 Virginia Freedom of Information Act.”
(Note: FOIA denials are supposed to include the exact reference to the exemption that allows records to be withheld, not just general reference to the act.)

Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent Patrick J. Russo was placed on paid leave Thursday and School Board member Diana D. Winston quit the board amid a brewing scandal apparently involving a series of complaints over allegedly inappropriate emails. Winston left halfway through a three-hour closed session of the county School Board that had been called to discuss Russo, and she did not return. She said she was quitting but did not offer a formal letter of resignation, sources said.

An emergency official says human error is to blame for a tornado alert mistakenly sent to about 500 people in the Charlottesville-Albemarle County area. Residents received phone calls and text messages about the alert Wednesday morning. They subsequently were notified by text messages and email that the warning was sent in error.

A prosecutor has filed a scathing rebuttal to a motion seeking court costs and attorney's fees in the case over Isle of Wight Supervisor Byron "Buzz" Bailey's removal from office. Bailey and School Board member Herb DeGroft have been under fire since personal emails they forwarded to other county officials were made public at a Board of Supervisors meeting in May. Both men had been targeted by removal petition efforts, which triggered a pair of circuit court cases where a judge was set to hear evidence for their removal from office. The proceeding against DeGroft has already been halted after the petition filed against him was found to lack enough signatures. Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney Phil Ferguson, who was assigned to represent the state and the petitioners in the removal case, filed a motion on July 26 to halt the proceedings against Bailey. The motion filed Aug. 2 by Bailey's attorney, H. Woodrow Crook, requests that the judge decide the case for Bailey and asks for costs "including reasonable attorney's fees." "We feel that that would be the ultimate insult to (the taxpayers of Isle of Wight) after all that Mr. Bailey has done to them," said Ferguson.
Daily Press

Virginia taxpayers know they’ve already coughed up more than $53,000 in legal fees for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s state-appointed lawyer. What they may not know is how much bigger that bill is getting, or exactly what it covers. The Republican governor’s office won’t tell how much it owes Tony Troy’s legal firm — the Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC — past May 31. The date marks the end of a roughly one-month period covered by invoices obtained Those bills amounted to $53,530. The governor’s office has “no documents” for payments or amounts owed past those May 31 invoices, said Matt Conrad, deputy chief of staff for McDonnell. Virginia Bureau

Fresh from their nominations at Virginia's Republican statewide convention in May, the party's nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general were jetted across Virginia courtesy of a car title lending company. The Virginia Public Access Project shows gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli and attorney general nominee Mark Obenshain reported in-kind contributions of $9,000 each from Select Management Resources LLC, which operates as Loan Max outlets in Virginia. E.W. Jackson, the GOP's nominee for lieutenant governor, was also on the three-day airborne blitz to cities across Virginia to introduce the Republican ticket to voters. VPAP has no record that Jackson listed the trip as a donation.

National Stories

Comments Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made last week to Time magazine about the difficulties of legislating in the modern era of constant media attention are being used against him by Republicans. Hickenlooper on Friday told a Time reporter during the National Governors Association meeting in Milwaukee that well-intentioned initiatives for government transparency have made government and lawmakers less effective. "We elect these people to make these difficult decisions, but now they are in the full light of video every time they make a decision," Hickenlooper said. "We elected these people, let them go back into a room like they always did."
Denver Post

National Security Agency director General Keith Alexande says his agency is working to prevent future leaks by replacing the majority of its system administrators—the position Edward Snowden held—with machines.
Fox News

A federal judge refused to block the Friday release of "Lovelace" after a lawsuit by the owners of the rights to "Deep Throat," a pornographic film that starred the biopic's namesake. U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan denied Arrow Productions Ltd's request for a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, a day after the company filed a $10 million lawsuit against the producers and distributor of the R-rated movie starring Amanda Seyfried. In its lawsuit, Arrow contended that the producers of "Lovelace" used more than five minutes of footage from "Deep Throat" without permission.

A federal judge has sided with a coalition of 17 Idaho news organizations in denying a request by a private prison operator to seal whatever it wants in a lawsuit filed by inmates. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued an order Tuesday scaling back the expansive protection order sought by the Corrections Corporation of America — Idaho's private prison contractor.
Idaho Statesman

The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials. The NSA is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged.
New York Times


W. Canova Peterson IV, Herald-Progress: Wednesday, July 24, the Hanover County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution supporting an amendment to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. This resolution was intended to insure that the citizens of Hanover County, as well as those in other jurisdictions, could be assured of both open and efficient government. Unfortunately, some people immediately accused the Hanover Board of trying to find a way to exclude the public from participation in local government decisions. Nothing could have been further from the truth. To clear up this misconception, I would like to share the background of this proposal and the intent of our Board.
(Note: As mentioned in this piece, VCOG did meet with Hanover reps last fall. We opposed the idea at the time, just as we do now. Hanover may be the most above-board board in the state for all we know -- we oppose this proposed change on POLICY grounds, not on the grounds that Hanover is trying to find a way to exclude the public.)

News & Advance: For decades, ethics rules for statewide office holders and those in the General Assembly have been guided by the principle that those officials should not be restricted from accepting gifts from lobbyists or others seeking some kind of favor, but should publicly disclose what they take. But those rules are not working. The scandal involving more than $150,000 in gifts and loans to Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family is evidence enough that the rules need to be tightened. How lax are the state’s ethics laws? Politifact Virginia spent some two weeks gathering and reviewing data from all 50 states. Among its findings were that Virginia’s threshold for statewide politicians and legislators to identify sources of income is $10,000 — the highest in the nation.