Transparency News 9/19/19



September 19, 2019


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state & local news stories


"The company said 'no opposition from the government or public is known or anticipated due (sic) the project’s consistency with city plans.'"

The City of Portsmouth filed rebuttals to the comments VOCG and the Virginia Press Association filed with the FOIA Council subcommittee studying phishing and public records. 
FOIA Council

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney fired his top administrator Wednesday on the heels of a scathing report laying out how five of her relatives secured jobs with city departments she oversaw. At least one — Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter Alexis K. Glenn — received higher pay than nearly everyone in a similar job with the city even after the city’s Human Resources Department initially refused to sign off on it, according to the report by city Inspector General James Osuna that was sent to the City Council on Wednesday. Another relative, Cuffee-Glenn’s niece, received a background check and a job offer for a position paying $70,000 before ever filling out an application. Cuffee-Glenn told investigators that she informed the mayor her daughter had been hired after her daughter started in March, but Stoney’s announcement of Cuffee-Glenn’s firing said he found out in May, the same month The Times-Dispatch first reported it. A whistleblower’s complaint initiated the inspector general probe in April. The investigation revealed that Public Works Director Bobby Vincent Jr. and Public Utilities Director Calvin Farr Jr. were aware that Cuffee-Glenn’s daughter was looking for a job with the city and helped facilitate her hiring. 
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Mayor Levar Stoney has fired the city’s chief administrative officer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn, the day he received a report from the inspector general detailing how six of her relatives, including her daughter and husband, came to work for the city. The city denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Style seeking the names, titles, pay rates and other public information about any employees who were related to Selena Cuffee-Glenn. The city citied familial relationships as an exemption to FOIA law, so Style amended its request, seeking information about two employees by name. A response to that request, due Sept. 18 according to FOIA law, has gone unanswered.
Style Weekly

Citing “controversy and division,” a Virginia Beach-based developer has killed its proposal to develop Portsmouth’s waterfront. In a letter sent Tuesday to Economic Development Director Robert Moore, Armada Hoffler Executive Vice President Bernard Shumate said the company is withdrawing plans to move city buildings inland and make room for private construction along the river. The problem, the developer said, is that it’s not getting enough support from the city.  Residents have urged public officials for months to slow down and negotiate more openly. And in response, City Council members have twice stalled a vote in recent weeks to set aside nearly half a million dollars to pay for the company’s designs for a new city hall and public safety buildings. Before The Virginian-Pilot reported about the Nov. 15 proposal, Armada Hoffler’s plans were not widely available. In that document, the company said “no opposition from the government or public is known or anticipated due (sic) the project’s consistency with city plans,” referring to broader efforts to boost shoreline development.
The Virginian-Pilot

Members of Congress view inspectors general as an objective source of information aimed at combating fraud, waste and abuse in government, as well as reliable investigators of whistleblower retaliation and sexual harassment at the agencies they oversee. But members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have raised concerns about the capability of the federal IG community, also known as the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), to conduct internal oversight of other watchdog offices. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the subcommittee on government operations, said IGs rank among the “most important and misunderstood jobs in our federal government,” but require more accountability to Congress. To that point, Connolly and Subcommittee Ranking Member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) have introduced a bill that would make CIGIE’s Integrity Committee more transparent and responsive to Congress.
Federal News Network

Strasburg Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. is opposing a petition filed by citizens to have him removed from office. Through an attorney, Orndorff released a rebuttal Wednesday to allegations made in the petition, arguing the petition lacks evidence and is operating as “an attempt to short circuit the normal process of electing a person to serve as mayor for the Town of Strasburg.” Orndorff’s attorney, Phillip S. Griffin II, argued the petition is “transparently lacking in facts.”
The Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

The New Mexico Court of Appeals Monday affirmed a lower court ruling obtained by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) holding that Corizon Health, which formerly provided medical care for state prison inmates, must turn over requested public records and pay legal fees for violating the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The original lawsuit came about as Corizon refused to release to the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican and FOG settlement agreements it made with prisoners who had sued Corizon over alleged malpractice and sexual abuse by a physician. Then-New Mexican Editor Ray Rivera asked for FOG’s help in getting the settlement documents as the New Mexico Department of Corrections denied the original request.  It said the documents were not in its possession but were held by Corizon.  The district court ruled that settlement documents are public records subject to disclosure and that Corizon had to comply with IPRA because it was performing a public function (providing prison medical services) under contract with a state agency.  Corizon appealed and withheld the settlements pending the outcome of the appeal.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government

Disclosing classified information without authorization is a crime even if the leaker had good intentions and was motivated by a larger public interest, the government said this week. Therefore, any mention of the purpose of the disclosure should be ruled out of bounds in trial, government attorneys argued. The issue arose in pre-trial motions in the case of USA v. Daniel Everette Hale. Hale is a former NSA intelligence analyst and NGA contractor who is accused of having provided classified documents concerning US military drone programs to The Intercept. "The defense likely will want to argue that, even if the defendant engaged in the conduct alleged, he had good reasons to leak the documents at issue and is being unfairly prosecuted under criminal statutes that carry significant penalties. Any such arguments, however, would be entirely improper," the government said in a motion to exclude such material.
Secrecy News


quote_2.jpg"The defense likely will want to argue that, even if the defendant engaged in the conduct alleged, he had good reasons to leak the documents at issue."


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg“As much as we can, in our own tiny way, we’re showing that this is how the process works and hopefully that helps them feel better about the process and being engaged."

A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center showed that two-thirds of Americans said they participated in politics in the past five years either by volunteering for or donating to campaigns, attending protests or meetings, contacting officials or expressing their views on social media. Nearly half said they had engaged in at least one of those activities in the previous year. In Virginia, one novel approach to ensuring citizen participation is Del. Sam Rasoul’s “You Write the Bill” program. In its second year, the program offers constituents a hands-on short course in the legislative process, learning how to draft their ideas into bills and develop their lobbying strategy. Rasoul, a Roanoke Democrat and a lawmaker since 2014, told us the “You Write the Bill” program is about transparency and empowerment, helping citizens understand how the system works. “As much as we can, in our own tiny way, we’re showing that this is how the process works and hopefully that helps them feel better about the process and being engaged,” he said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch