Transparency News 9/11/13


Wednesday, September 11, 2013
State and Local Stories


Each year the Virginia Coalition for Open Government presents awards at our annual conference to recognize contributions to open government in Virginia. We recognize efforts made by citizens, the news media and government. Last year's awards went to retiring Sen. Harry Blevins, for his work in setting up better access to Virginia's vital records; the staff of the Daily Cavalier (pictured at right), UVA's student newspaper, for their coverage of the leadership crisis at the school last summer; and the Concerned Citizens of Giles County, for their lawsuit against the town of Glen Lyn to open open records showing a too-cozy relationship between town officials and a local business. We are currently seeking nominations for our 2013 awards, which will be presented Friday, Dec. 6, at VCOG's annual conference in Williamsburg.

Ken Cuccinelli is donating nearly $18,900 to a charity, an amount reflecting the value of presents he received from a corporate executive linked to a Virginia gift scandal, after resisting calls to repay them for months. "I made the decision to send the check because it is the right thing to do, plain and simple," Cuccinelli said about the donation, according to a transcript of a video clip sent to supporters. His donation is equivalent to what he accepted in gifts from Star Scientific Inc. Chief Executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Cuccinelli said he is turning that money over to resolve questions regarding the Star Scientific scandal, and he apologized to those disappointed by his ties to it. The money is going to CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, a Richmond-area operation providing medical care to the uninsured.
Virginian Pilot

The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has retained a second law firm related to the criminal case against a former Executive Mansion chef and it has already billed the state nearly $100,000. That comes on top of $143,598 that the first firm, Eckert Seamans, has billed taxpayers related to its representation of Gov. Bob McDonnell and his office in the chef’s case. The international firm Baker & McKenzie LLP was appointed July 3 to represent state employees in their official capacity regarding a criminal case alleging embezzlement by the former chef, a spokesman for McDonnell confirmed Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education is encouraging the state's public schools to participate in a statewide test of Internet connection speeds next month. Each school division is being asked to designate a person to coordinate testing and ensure that the tests are conducted in all 1,867 public schools, as well as buildings housing regional and specialty education programs. Ten connection-speed tests are planned during October.

Virginia State Police are investigating how the Patrick County High School class of 2010’s legacy gift was bought, and a private investigator has concluded that the fifth and final complaint alleging retaliation against a Patrick Schools employee was founded. That complaint was filed by Dr. Karen Wood against schools Superintendent Roger Morris, according to Wood and School Board Chairman Ronnie Terry. Wood alleged in the complaint that she was retaliated against for speaking out during a state Department of Education (DOE) investigation last year when the school board voted to approve her transfer from the director of instruction for K-12 position in the school board’s central office to an off-site position of staff development, parent and adult education.
Martinsville Bulletin

Much of the fate of Medicaid, health care and possibly Virginia’s infrastructure as a whole rests in the hands of 10 General Assembly members. But, Virginians still have a say — at least, they have a forum to talk. Time will tell whether their input matters. The Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission — the legislative team of five state senators and five state delegates who will help decide how to reform Medicaid and whether to increase enrollment under Obamacare — is now accepting citizen comments online. It’s a very simple, generic comment submission page, but one with the potential to help chart Virginia’s course. Virginia Bureau

One by one, the supervisors of Fairfax County cited their reasons for not being able to vote Tuesday on a routine zoning matter involving Inova Health Systems. First went Sharon Bulova (D-At Large), the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who said she was recusing herself because she’d received political contributions from people tied to Inova. Then Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) disclosed that she was comped a $389 ticket to Inova’s annual dinner gala. And Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said he couldn’t vote because he’d also received political donations from hospital trustees. By the time the roll was called, only three of the 10 supervisors voted on the proposal to open up three hospital day-care centers to the children of non-employees.
Washington Post

National Stories

Since its establishment in 2009, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) has provided comments on proposed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations for 18 of 99 federal agencies that administer FOIA, as well as a number of Privacy Act system of records notices. While OGIS has suggested improvements to a number of those regulations and notices, it has not performed the reviews of regulations and notices in a proactive, comprehensive manner, and has not conducted any reviews of agencies' compliance with the law. In addition, since it was established 4 years ago, the office has not developed a methodology for conducting reviews of agencies' FOIA policies and procedures, or for compliance with FOIA requirements. OGIS is in the early stages of developing a methodology for conducting such reviews, but has not established a time frame for completion. Until OGIS establishes a methodology and time frame for proactively reviewing agencies' FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance, the office will not be positioned to effectively execute its responsibilities as required by the act.
U.S Government Accountability Office

East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies left empty-handed Tuesday after trying to get information about Louisiana State University’s search for a new president from university officials. Judge Janice Clark ordered the sheriff to seize the information after university officials refused to release the documents to comply with her April 30 order. A lawyer for the L.S.U. Board of Supervisors has said the documents are in the custody of a Texas-based consultant hired by the university, and it was not clear whether the sheriff would have the authority to seize them. Judge Clark has ruled that the names of nearly three dozen presidential candidates were public record and must be released.
New York Times

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today signed legislation requiring out-of-state law enforcement agencies to notify New Jersey authorities before conducting counter-terrorism operationswithin its borders. The bill (A2948), which was passed by the Legislature in response to the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims in the Garden State, requires out-of-state agencies to notify the local county prosecutor 24 hours before conducting surveillance.
Newark Star-Ledger

The Securities and Exchange Commission is storing 46 boxes of information about insurance giant American International Group Inc., plus 39,612 electronic files. But the public apparently isn’t going to see them. This week the SEC told Corporate Counsel, which had sought information under the Freedom of Information Act, that the request was denied because searching such “voluminous records” would be "unreasonably burdensome" on the agency staff.
Corporate Counsel

A calm yet defiant Lisa Jackson faced her Republican critics Tuesday during a House hearing on government secrecy, while denying yet again that she tried to evade federal record-keeping requirements as the EPA’s administrator during President Barack Obama’s first term. In turn, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) implicitly compared Jackson to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But he also acknowledged that transparency problems at the EPA stretch back at least to the George W. Bush era.

Tuesday saw more disconcerting news about the US National Security Agency, as a clutch of newly declassified documents reportedly showed that the NSA searched Americans' phone call records without paying heed to court-ordered requirements for doing so, and that the agency misrepresented the secret call-tracking program to legal officials. The roughly 1,800 pages of documents, which were released today in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, show, according to various reports, that from May 2006 to January 2009 the NSA investigated nearly 18,000 phone numbers -- but that only 2,000 of those numbers involved a court-mandated "reasonable, articulable suspicion" of a link to terrorist activities.


Daily Press: A year ago on this date, we wrote that it was time for American citizens to begin reclaiming some of the privacy that we willingly gave up in the name of security after 9/11. Instead, the past year has brought us further disturbing news – courtesy of the National Security Agency, among others – regarding just how far the reach of government surveillance can extend.With that in mind, today we reprint the bulk of last year's editorial, hoping very much that we won't feel the need to use these same words again on Sept. 11, 2014.

Daily ProgressIt is impossible to overemphasize the need for impeccable handling of private information by those in responsible positions. Security breaches that expose private information increase the risk of identity theft. And the financial and emotional burdens of dealing with identity theft can be highly distressing. Yet there’s been another security breach in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Human Resource Management announced that personal information on 13,000 state employees was mistakenly released. The information included Social Security numbers.