Transparency News 9/13/13


Friday, September 13, 2013
State and Local Stories


At yesterday’s meeting, the FOIA Council took two encouraging steps toward open government in Virginia. In one instance, the council unanimously recommended that the State Corporation Commission, Del. Scot Surovell and interested stakeholders work together to find mutually agreeable language that would subject at least some records or functions of the commission to be subject to FOIA. A FOIA subcommittee had previously refused to make such a recommendation, but the full council did. In the other instance, the council refused to take up the invitation of Hanover County Attorney Sterling Rives and Del. Chris Peace to further study Hanover’s suggestion to change FOIA to allow more than two members of a board to talk public business without it being an open meeting under FOIA. Sen. Richard Stuart expressed alarm when Rives said that some officials don’t like to talk about controversial issues in public.

Hampton has hired a new police chief, announcing Wednesday that Terry L. Sult, a director of public safety and former chief of an Atlanta suburb and a longtime police officer in Charlotte, N.C., will lead the police division. The city manager made the announcement Wednesday during a public session of the Hampton City Council, having had earlier informed each of the council members individually of her decision. The appointment of the police chief did not require a council vote or approval, since it's an appointment made by the city manager under the city's rules. Bunting in recent weeks declined to release the names of the finalists vying for the job. She also declined two requests for the names of those serving on the various selection committees for a new chief, finally providing the names on Wednesday morning, following a third request earlier this week.
Daily Press

A 3-year-old letter - found in their own files - has answered the pressing questions that had city leaders at odds with a prominent businessman over construction costs for the Portsmouth Judicial Center. Portsmouth still owes developer Bob Williams about $9 million. Questions arose when city officials started trying to repay the lien early and wanted to see a detailed spending account on the $78 million project. They spent months in a contentious back-and-forth with Williams and his attorney, Kevin Martingayle, who eventually asked city leaders what legal requirement made it "necessary and appropriate" to treat his client with that kind of scrutiny. But on Sept. 6, officials found a letter sent by Williams in 2010 that breaks down the costs into areas such as furnishings, construction management and development fee, essentially answering all of their own questions.

The Henrico County School Board met in closed session for roughly six hours Thursday, with the bulk of the time spent in interviews with candidates for the Three Chopt District vacancy. The board interviewed a total of eight candidates. The names of the candidates who will be considered further are expected to be announced today. A public hearing on the appointment will be held next week.

National Stories

More than a year after the death of conservative blogger and web publisher Andrew Breitbart, a Washington federal trial judge expressed frustration on Wednesday that Breitbart's role in a defamation lawsuit remained unsettled. The judge threatened to hold lawyers in contempt unless he gets answers. Breitbart's former counsel at Katten Muchin Rosenman bore the brunt of U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's irritation as he pushed for information about unresolved issues related to Breitbart's death—chiefly, whether he left a will and whether there was an estate that could be substituted as a party. Leon said he had an "uneasy feeling" about Katten's level of cooperation and said a law firm of its stature should "not be a party to games like this."
National Law Journal

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and his office spokesman, Bob Cooper, stopped by the Burley Times-News office on Monday to chat. Wasden and Cooper were making the rounds to many media offices in southern Idaho to talk about public records law in Idaho.
Twin Falls Times-News

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has postponed arguments scheduled for this month in a dispute over an attempt to unmask an anonymous Wikipedia editor sued for defamation. Washington attorney Susan Burke, who recently left her solo practice to join Katz, Marshal & Banks, has been fighting in court to uncover the identity of an editor she claimed defamed her in a post on her Wikipedia page. The editor appealed after a District of Columbia Superior Court judge denied a motion to block Burke's subpoena.
Blog of LegalTimes

A federal shield bill that would give reporters a qualified privilege from being forced to disclose confidential sources or information passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and is set to go before the full Senate for a vote. The bill, known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013, passed on a 13-5 vote. Supporters of the bill said they hope to see it move quickly to the Senate. “We hope with the strong vote out of committee there is momentum for action on the Senate floor,” said Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy at the Newspaper Association of America.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A retired Army sergeant in Detroit was refused a vanity license plate with the word "INF1DL,"because Michigan's Department of State determined that the word may carry a connotation offensive to good taste or decency under the Motor Vehicle Code guidelines. Michael Matwyuk, who served 22 years in the Army and fought in Iraq, recalled how fellow soldiers eventually embraced the word "infidel," which they were oftentimes referred to by enemy fighters. These soldiers, he said, would celebrate the term and stick the word on clothes and even tattooed the word on their bodies.
Fox News

A sampling of local governments’ compliance with state public records law by Auditor Dave Yost revealed that 40 percent of them had spotty record-retention policies or, in some cases, lacked clear understanding of their duties. “How can you tell if it’s a reasonable time [for government to respond to a records request] under the law if you don’t know when it came in or when you responded?” Mr. Yost said before the Ohio Association of Broadcasters Thursday. It was a tiny sampling, 20 counties and cities, but Mr. Yost’s office found problems in eight of them, including Bowling Green and Allen County in northwest Ohio.
Toledo Blade

A MNsure employee accidentally sent an e-mail file to an Apple Valley (Minnesota) insurance broker’s office on Thursday that contained Social Security numbers, names, business addresses and other identifying information on more than 2,400 insurance agents. An official at MNsure, the state’s new online health insurance exchange, acknowledged it had mishandled private data. A MNsure security manager called the broker, Jim Koester, and walked him and his assistant through a process of deleting the file from their computer hard drives. Koester said he willingly complied, but was unnerved. “The more I thought about it, the more troubled I was,” he said. “What if this had fallen into the wrong hands? It’s scary. If this is happening now, how can clients of MNsure be confident their data is safe?”
Minneapolis Star Tribune


Petula Dvorak, Washington Post: The parking lot was jammed, cars snaking along the road and into the neighborhood. The meeting room in Annandale was packed, with a satellite location for the overflow audience. Two police officers in body armor stood guard. This mob at George Mason Regional Library could get unruly, I guess. That’s what happens when you toss 250,000 books into trash bins.