Transparency News 9/12/13


Thursday, September 12, 2013
State and Local Stories


Wanted by the city of Newport News: "applications from highly skilled candidates to serve as the city's next Chief of Police." The city has posted an advertisement and is receiving responses in its search for someone to succeed former police chief James Fox, who retired on Sept. 1. City Manager Jim Bourey told City Council on Tuesday he anticipates including the public in the search process, and that citizens will have a chance to meet and ask questions of the finalists for the position.
Daily Press

Lynchburg Sheriff Ron Gillispie confirmed Wednesday that one of his deputies was under scrutiny in a recent Virginia State Police investigation. Gillispie, who is up for re-election, said in a statement the investigation is over and no charges were brought against the deputy. The sheriff’s office disciplined the deputy for violating a department policy on use of official vehicles, he said. However, due to personnel confidentiality, no further details will be released. Gillispie, who’s been sheriff since 2002, is facing a challenge this election season from first-time candidate Kevin Chapman, a local private investigator. Chapman has referenced the state police investigation on the campaign trail, and questioned how the sheriff’s office is run.
News & Advance

A Norton court reporter who helped a lawyer try to undermine a federal drug prosecution has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Ernest J. Benko, 67, pleaded guilty in June to lying to federal agents about his knowledge of lawyer Stuart Collins’ involvement in illegal drug use. Collins had hired Benko to take sworn statements from witnesses that would have contradicted any incriminating testimony.
Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Approaching her retirement, Zofia Dubicka went to register for her Social Security benefits in March when a clerk delivered stunning news. “You’re not a U.S. citizen,” he told her. Dubicka, who will turn 67 on Saturday, has lived in Northern Virginia for 24 years. Before that, on New York’s Long Island for four decades. Her family had fled Poland at the end of World War II, and all this time she thought that she had been born on a farm in Germany. They immigrated to the United States when she was 3, and she vividly remembers the day her father became a naturalized citizen in 1961, when she was a teenager. Immigration services officer Patricia Smith, who was assigned to Dubicka’s case, said if Dubicka’s mother had also been naturalized before the daughter turned 18, Dubicka would have automatically been a citizen. But her mother never filed for citizenship. Dubicka’s sister, who has since died, was born in the United States in 1951, and so was automatically an American. The mix of legal residents and citizens in a family is not unusual among immigrants, Smith said, and that can add to the confusion in which someone assumes he or she is a citizen, until learning otherwise.
Washington Post

National Stories

The data system supporting President Barack Obama's healthcare reform has been tested and certified as secure for millions of Americans who will seek health coverage beginning on October 1, meeting a critical deadline for launching the program, the administration said on Wednesday. Concerns over whether consumer information would be secure in time were raised last month, when a government report said it could take until September 30 to sign off on the system's data protections, leaving little room for error before Obamacare is due to go live.

Another shoe has dropped in the National Security Agency's covert mass surveillance program. Whistleblower Edward Snowden has provided The Guardian with a document that outlines the NSA's widespread sharing of "US persons" cellular and e-mail metadata with Israel. According to The Guardian, "US persons" include US citizens, permanent residents, and anyone located in the US at the time of data interception. The classified document, called the "Memorandum of Understanding," shows that the NSA has been providing Israeli intelligence agencies with reams of raw intelligence data, such as transcripts, phone records, and digital network information, since 2009.


Daily Press: Hampton just hired a new police chief. Newport News is beginning the process of hiring one. The coincidental timing affords us a simple way to contrast two different approaches to transparency in the interview process. Newport News is promising citizens and the media an open door through which to participate in the entire process. During Hampton's search, that metaphorical door wasn't quite deadbolted shut, but it was left barely ajar to allow only a narrow glimpse. In this age of information, city leaders cannot expect to choose key public officials in cloistered meetings. Citizens should not be content to wait for occasional tidbits of information. But that is largely how Hampton went about the process of choosing a replacement for Charles Jordan, who resigned in November. Finalists were never identified by the city. The interview process was kept hidden from view. The city has said from the start that some citizens would be involved in the interview process, and what role they would play. But the city would not provide the Daily Press with names of those citizens or other members of the search committee until Wednesday, after refusing two previous requests. The information was finally provided just a few hours before the city announced that the search was complete.

Roanoke Times: The State Corporation Commission’s impact on the everyday lives of Virginians is vast, covering everything from utility rates to insurance policies to financial rules for banks and payday lenders. Yet the commission is poorly understood. Adding to the confusion is the SCC’s independent status under the state constitution, a status that the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled exempts it from the Freedom of Information Act. Bringing sunshine to the SCC would be neither as easy as advocates contend nor as difficult as opponents insist. Greater transparency and public understanding are goals worth the effort, but it would require both a political and public will that unfortunately are not yet in evidence.

Roanoke Times: Cuccinelli apparently is a slow study when it comes to ethics lessons, continuing to say, even as he was writing the $18,000 check, that his acceptance of Williams’ gifts “certainly was not unethical.” Which makes it what? Ethical?

Daily Progress: As a matter of conscience, Ken Cuccinelli’s “regifting” of donations from Star Scientific’s CEO might provide peace of mind. As a campaign strategy, it could come far too late.

Robert McCartney, Washington Post: It wasn’t enough for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to embarrass the state, weaken the Republican Party and cripple his political career by accepting largesse from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. Now, he and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have managed to stick state taxpayers with part of the legal bills for trying to fix the problem.

News & Advance: After a closed-door meeting and the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors’ subsequent unanimous vote to appeal the judge’s decision, board chair Marshall Ecker said, “I felt all along we should appeal this case. That’s what I voted for tonight, because I want to take a stand for Jesus.” So in taking a “stand for Jesus,” the chairman shuts out those who have placed their faith in some other religion. What about those who pray to Allah? Or those who are Hindu? Or those agnostics or atheists? Or folks like Barbara Hudson, who objected to the sectarian prayer in Jesus’ name at the beginning of the board meetings. Taking a “stand for Jesus” is entirely appropriate for a minister or a church lay leader for any denomination. Taking such a stand at the heart of county government is not only inappropriate, but as the courts have said, is unconstitutional.