Transparency News 9/11/19



September 11, 2019


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state & local news stories


"The filing argues that by siding with Goldman, the ... court weakened the exemption, an outcome that could lead to other localities having to disclose documents pertaining to ongoing negotiations."

A seemingly decided legal dispute between Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration and one of its most persistent critics could be headed to the Virginia Supreme Court, exasperating members of the City Council. In June, a Richmond Circuit Court judge ordered the city to release documents tied to the $1.5 billion Coliseum redevelopment plan in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed earlier this year. The Stoney administration first denied the FOIA request, then fought in court to keep the documents secret. It ultimately lost the case and agreed to release more than 2,000 records to Paul Goldman. Seeking to overturn what it views as a misguided precedent that conflicts with existing case law, the Stoney administration filed a petition last week to appeal the Circuit Court’s order to the state’s highest court. The Stoney administration believed it could keep the documents secret under a carve-out in the state’s open records law that allows public bodies to withhold documents pertaining to ongoing negotiations. The filing argues that by siding with Goldman, the Richmond Circuit Court weakened the exemption, an outcome that could lead to other localities having to disclose documents pertaining to ongoing negotiations.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Federal prosecutors filed additional charges against former Newport News airport executive director Kenneth Spirito, alleging he used airport funds for his personal benefit and lied in sworn statements about his role in the airport’s repayment of People Express airline’s debt.  The new indictment was filed Monday. It alleges Spirito took the leading role in arranging the use of public funds to launch the start-up airline after People Express couldn’t raise enough from private investors. Spirito has said he was acting at the direction of Peninsula Airport Commission board members and that since he himself did not benefit from the money, the federal law he was charged with violating does not apply.
Daily Press

The Arlington County Police Department appears likely to become the fourth Greater Washington law enforcement agency to sign a partnership with Ring Inc., a doorbell-camera company owned by Inc., despite internal concerns over privacy and racial profiling. The police department has not yet signed the memorandum of understanding with the Santa Monica-based company, which would bind police to keep certain information secret, but emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request suggest it could very soon. The company reached out and met with Arlington police in December to demonstrate and discuss what Ring could offer, according to emails obtained through FOIA. But within a week of the meeting, at least one person in the police department seemed concerned about a potential partnership. Ashley Savage, a police public information officer, appeared uneasy with how Ring and the Neighbors app had been used.
Washington Business Journal

McGuireWoods LLP charged Eastern Virginia Medical School more than $365,000 for their investigation into Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photo, according to copies of two invoices sent to the school. Details of the law firm’s investigation were released in May, but the report was “inconclusive” on whether Gov. Northam is in a racist photo that appears on his 1984 EVMS yearbook page. The first invoice billed to the school on March 31 is for $76,141,36 and charges for work done during the month of February. A second and final invoice was billed to the school in August for work done during the months of March, April, May, and June. It charges $291,785.27. WTKR obtained the invoices through a Freedom of Information Act request.


stories of national interest

There’s a running joke on both sides of the transparency community that the standards for secrecy are so absurd that “you could easily classify a ham sandwich.” And nowhere does that dictum ring truer than in regards to the Central Intelligence Agency, which has, on multiple occasions, classified ham sandwiches. These are those ham sandwiches, pulled from the CIA’s declassified archives. 




editorials & columns


“We believe in openness and transparency,” wrote the presidents of two historically black universities in a pro-Navy Hill redevelopment piece ghostwritten by the corporation planning to overhaul a swath of downtown. I’m not sure why a private university in Richmond’s North Side and a public land-grant university 25 miles away, in Ettrick, are so invested in redeveloping downtown Richmond. Their piece read exactly like what it was: an opinion written by someone else. But theirs wasn’t the only case where the byline and author didn’t match. A month later, when it was Michael Rao’s turn to go to bat for the Coliseum-area redevelopment plan, the Virginia Commonwealth University president and NH District Corp. displayed a similar disregard for truth in advertising. Richmond, we have a problem. The appearance of conflict can be as damaging as actual conflict. But the behavior of the project’s boosters has become increasingly heavy-handed.
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch