Transparency News 9/24/19



September 24, 2019


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state & local news stories


CONGRATULATIONS to the winners of VCOG's 2019 FOI Media Awards!

  • First Place, Broadcast Television Stations, WDBJ7, Tim Saunders.
  • First Place, Daily Newspapers, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Patrick Wilson.
  • First Place, Non-Daily Newspapers, Rappahannock News, John McCaslin:
  • First Place, Online News Outlets, Virginia Mercury, Mechelle Hankerson 
  • Runner-up, Broadcast Television Stations, NBC29, Henry Graff
  • Runner-up, Daily Newspapers, The Roanoke Times, Jeff Sturgeon
  • Runner-up, Non-Daily Newspapers, The Tidewater News, Stephen Feleski

Join us Monday, Nov. 18, for a celebratory luncheon honoring them, as well as the work of reporters, producers and editors all across the Commonwealth who are using public records and meetings to inform and impact their communities.

Details about the lunch -- including early-bird ticket prices -- can be found here.

The entries were judged by Ron Keefover, executive director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. His reflections on the winners are excerpted here.

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch is among a handful of news organizations suing the Virginia Department of Corrections to enable citizen and media witnesses to view executions from start to finish. Some key steps in executions by lethal injection have always been hidden in Virginia. But following a controversial 2017 execution, a state policy change now hides everything except the reading of the death warrant and the inmate’s last words just before the chemicals start to flow. “The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees the public an affirmative right of access to certain government proceedings, including a right to witness the entirety of executions carried out by the government,” contends the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Richmond on Monday. In addition to The Times-Dispatch, owned by BH Media Group, the other plaintiffs are The Associated Press; The (Staunton and Waynesboro) News Leader, owned by Gannett Co.; and Guardian News and Media LLC, established by The Guardian newspaper in London. The media outlets are represented by the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School and lawyers with the Richmond law firm Christian & Barton LLP.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Staunton has not spent money on outside legal fees this year, while the city of Waynesboro has spent approximately $118,000 this year for an outside firm to handle litigation. Waynesboro does not have in-house legal counsel, unlike Staunton and Augusta County. The city decided to outsource legal representation in 2017. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 12, the city paid Harrisonburg firm Litten & Sipe a total of $117,537.91 to handle all litigation, according to City Manager Mike Hamp.
News Leader


stories of national interest

A string of recent court setbacks for news organizations is prompting jitters among First Amendment advocates who fear that it could signal an erosion of the deference press outlets have enjoyed for decadesin cases challenging their reporting. Some legal experts view the rulings as signs that the courts’ view of the media is beginning to change, with more judges embracing the notion that major news outlets are partisan combatants rather than engaged in a dispassionate search for the truth. The recent rulings involved well-known, national media outlets: National Public Radio, The New York Times and Fox News. All the decisions evinced serious doubts about the media’s actions.

The Jackson (Mississippi) Free Press is asking the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to delay its unanimous vote yesterday to dispose of documents relating to its former administrations as well as former County Administrator's files from 1984 to 2007 without specifying the number or the content of those documents. After reviewing the State of Mississippi's records-retention schedule and guidelines for local-government records, this newspaper today sent a letter to the board expressing concern that the decision could violate Mississippi's public-records law.
Jackson Free Press