Transparency News 9/11/17

Monday, September 11, 2017

State and Local Stories

A newsletter with a small following is driving a large wedge between some Franklin County School Board members. Karen Hiltz, who represents the Gills Creek District, started The Apple Report after she joined the board last year. In the monthly dispatches, posted to Facebook and sent to the media, Hiltz highlights the issues discussed by the board and offers her opinions. She has chafed at what she describes as administrators’ lack of transparency to the board and the county as a whole. Her updates have caused discomfort among other board members. After mentioning a teacher had been placed on administrative leave “pending an investigation dealing with contributing to the delinquency of a minor” in one of her newsletters, Hiltz received a public scolding from board Chairman G.B. Washburn. He asked whether any items discussed in that night’s meeting would appear in her next report. Hiltz said no, there was nothing she felt the public would benefit from knowing. “Well I’m glad to see that you feel that personnel matters and student matters which are to be kept confidential are not for the public benefit,” Washburn said at the meeting.
Roanoke Times

The Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Rocky Mount man convicted of a felony after he hung a dark-colored, life-sized dummy from a rope in his yard during a 2015 feud with his black neighbors. In the wake of making that display, Jack Eugene Turner, 53, was found in violation of a relatively new state law that prohibits presenting a noose as a means of intimidation. But ever since his case was first heard in Franklin County Circuit Court, Turner and his defense attorney, Holland Purdue, have argued that the hanging figure was protected as free speech under the First Amendmentand that it occurred on Turner’s own private property and not “on a highway or other public place” as the statute prohibits.
Roanoke Times

National Stories

A Cook County judge has ruled that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not have to produce an index of private emails and text messages he sent and received, dealing a setback to the Chicago Tribune in its continuing fight with the city over the mayor's electronic communications. Judge Kathleen Pantle made the ruling Thursday in the Tribune's ongoing lawsuit that alleges Emanuel skirted the state's open records laws by refusing to release communications about city business that he had conducted through private accounts.
Chicago Tribune

Last month, ESPN reported that former Auburn softball player Alexa Nemeth had filed a complaint alleging that players suffered sexual harassment and abuse under then-head coach Clint Myers. This complaint, per ESPN, also said that “Coach Clint Myers knowingly let his son Corey Myers have relations and pursue relations with multiple members of the team.” The complaint was, according to ESPN’s reporting, submitted to two state agencies: Auburn and the office of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. ESPN didn’t post the full complaint, so I asked both Auburn and Ivey’s offices for copies. I did so knowing that, due to federal student-privacy laws, whatever I got back from Auburn would be incomplete, and that I was much more likely to get a fuller copy of what Nemeth submitted from Ivey’s office. However, my request to Ivey’s office was rejected because I’m not a citizen of Alabama.

A draft-stage town (Mount Pleasant, S.C.) policy for handling public information requests has been revised to eliminate a controversial $10 minimum fee. First proposed in June, the town's plan to charge a minimum fee for public information requests was criticized by a lawyer for the S.C. Press Association. Charging a minimum fee could conflict with a provision in state law that says fees for Freedom of Information Act requests can't exceed the actual cost, Jay Bender said. David Pagliarini, a lawyer for the town, said in June that since the town planned to charge a rate of $14.11 per hour, per employee, to fulfill FOIA requests, a $10 minimum charge was reasonable. 
Post and Courier

Former Delaware state treasurer Chip Flowers is taking a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against former Gov. Jack Markell to the Delaware Supreme Court. Attorneys for Flowers filed a notice of appeal Thursday of a Superior Court judge’s ruling last month against Flowers. The judge reversed a decision in which a former chief deputy attorney general questioned whether Markell’s office violated FOIA by withholding emails from Flowers solely on the basis that they were sent or received by a lawmaker or legislative staff member, without regard to the content or context of the emails. The issue arose because, when boasting several years ago about extending FOIA’s open-government provisions to the General Assembly, state lawmakers specifically exempted their emails and their staffers’ emails from the definition of public records.
Washington Post

A Little Rock lawyer is suing the Arkansas Department of Correction for violating the Freedom of Information Act by not releasing the labels and package inserts of the first drug used in the state's three-drug execution protocol, the controversial sedative midazolam. Steven Shults — who filed a similar suit in March requesting the labeling of another execution drug, potassium chloride — says in an affidavit that he asked for the labels on Aug. 21 and was told, via email, that labels were exempt from FOIA.
Arkansas Times


A local government in Virginia can do anything the people it governs want it to do, and are willing to pay for -- as long as it doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution or state law. Anything. The issue, at least to me, is identifying what “the people” really want.  Usually, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors ends up listening to a handful of “the people” who care enough to show up in matching T-shirts and demonstrate for something. The rest of “the people” are usually blissfully unaware of what goes on in the McCoart Administration Building.  Such is the nature of our republican form of local government. There is a solution to this expensive dilemma: Ask us what we want. One way to do this is via the referendum process.  The other is to use modern technology to reach out and conduct a poll.
Al Alborn, InsideNoVa

125: Number of Freedom of Information Act requests the town of Abingdon has received in the past year, according to Town Attorney and FOIA officer Deb Icenhour. That’s up from about 50 requests six years ago, she said. To help with the increase in requests and ensure transparency, Councilwoman Cindy Patterson proposed last week that a citizen board be created to review how the town handles its FOIA requests. When (federal) FOIA was enacted in 1966, it was envisioned as a tool for journalists to facilitate government oversight and accountability, according to the FOIA Mapper organization. Nowadays, journalists account for only a small share of FOIA requests – just 7.6 percent.
Herald Courier

“Competitive” is usually not the first word one would use to describe a scientist. One usually envisions scientists as inherently noncompetitive by virtue due to the collaborative nature of our field, or perhaps because of other less flattering stereotypes. In truth, when it comes to being the first to discover something, scientists are just as competitive as any other person. At its best, this dynamic drives scientists to work harder and with greater focus, pushing scientific progress that much more. At its worst, it can drive some to be overly secretive and occasionally willing to steal the ideas of others. Without intending to, the federal government has created the perfect tool to prey on research of the former, and anyone else's for that matter, through the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The presence of FOIA creates a situation where a scientist's competitors could have access to the researcher's ideas during the same timeframe without having to put in the initial work of coming up with the research or even writing the grant.
David Garcia, The (University of Tennessee) Daily Beacon