Transparency News 9/12/18



September 12, 2018


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state & local news stories


"Understanding FOIA requirements has posed some trouble for members, the bulk of whom were unfamiliar with the process prior to joining the board."

The state Department of Elections isn’t watching elections as closely as it should, isn’t providing help to local registrars and has often been politically influenced because of its staffing structure, a study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found. The Department of Elections is constantly trying to keep up with an increasing workload, said Commissioner Chris Piper. He was appointed in January but worked previously in the Department of Elections for eight years in different positions. He told the JLARC committee that unplanned events also add to the department’s workload. The department often gets Freedom of Information Act requests right before election season, which can overwhelm staff. Redistricting also adds to the workload, he said.
Virginia Mercury

In recent weeks, Arlington County and its school system have sought to charge ARLnow hundreds of dollars to fulfill public records requests, or simply not responded to them — and others around the county have noticed similar issues accessing public documents. The county has asked for more than $1,140 in all to provide records in response to three requests by ARLnow under the Freedom of Information Act, using accounting practices that raised eyebrows at one of Virginia’s open government watchdog groups. In another case, Arlington Public Schools has gone more than a month before providing any response to an ARLnow FOIA request, missing a state-mandated deadline by weeks. Other reporters and political activists told ARLnow they’ve received even larger bills, or similarly been stumped by radio silence from the county on the requests.

Discussions at the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board’s meeting Tuesday continued to revolve around the group’s lack of power and the logistical difficulties it faces. This initial iteration of the CRB is specifically tasked with developing bylaws that will govern and guide future boards. Per the resolution establishing it, the CRB cannot begin collecting data and acting without approval from the City Council. This has caused some difficulties for members, with some expressing their frustrations in trying to figure out what information they can collect from the public. Additionally, members have repeatedly brought up concerns about Freedom of Information requirements that could make it difficult to protect the anonymity of people bringing complaints to the board. Also addressed was an FOIA request from Denise Lunsford, an attorney representing the Southern States Police Benevolent Association.  Some CRB members took issue with Lunsford’s request, which is the second the board has received. Understanding FOIA requirements has posed some trouble for members, the bulk of whom were unfamiliar with the process prior to joining the board.
The Daily Progress


national stories of interest

Anyone in public life expects criticism. But sometimes it gets personal. The temptation in those situations is strong to shut up the naysayers, but doing so might be against the law. In May, a judge ruled that President Trump could not block people from following him on Twitter. It was the most prominent in a series of rulings finding that access to public figures on social media is a constitutional right. “The suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards,” Judge James Cacheris wrote in a case involving a supervisor in Fairfax County, Va. Politicians often claim that their social media accounts are personal, not public property. But public officials also use these same accounts to conduct official business or make announcements. Some politicians argue that they’re simply clamping down on trolls who use offensive language. But public officials can’t block people preemptively from their offices. In effect, by blocking them on social media, that’s what they’re doing.

Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch sued the Justice Department Tuesday for all emails found on the laptop of disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner related to the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Judicial Watch’s lawsuit comes following the Justice Department’s failure to act on two of the group’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The group is seeking all records regarding the bureau’s probe of Weiner’s laptop, records retrieved from that laptop, and all records of communications between FBI officials regarding Clinton’s knowledge of “illicit activities” involving Weiner.
Fox News

A nonprofit group founded by conservative political megadonors Charles and David Koch must disclose its largest givers to law enforcement authorities in California, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation had argued that the state's rules requiring filing of the donor list violate the First Amendment by discouraging individuals from giving and by exposing them to threats and harassment. In 2016, the group persuaded a federal judge in Los Angeles to issue a permanent injunction against the requirement. U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real said the state rarely used the information, but often disclosed it accidentally with charities' public tax filings.