Transparency News 9/29/16

Thursday, September 29, 2016

State and Local Stories
The FOIA Council’s subcommittee on records will meet this morning at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly Building. The public is encouraged to attend. Here is today’s agenda. 
FOIA Council
Supporting materials can be found here (scroll down):

The National FOI Summit is Oct. 7-8 in Washington, D.C. The Summit is open to the public and will be packed full of panels and speakers on trending topics in access and transparency. You can register for to days, just one, or the luncheon only.
Read the agenda here
Register here (scroll down)

National Stories

I FILED MY FIRST Freedom of Information Act request on February 1, 2012. I was 26 years old, and chasing a story about my father’s med-school classmate, Dr. Paul Volkman, who had been convicted of a massive prescription drug dealing scheme the previous year. The aim of the request was simple: I wanted to see the evidence the jury saw during Volkman’s eight-week trial in Cincinnati for a book I’m writing about the case. But everyone I asked—the US district court clerk, the appellate court clerk, the prosecutor, and the judge who presided over the case—declined to give me the documents. It was time to make an official request to the Department of Justice. To make a very long story short, in March of 2015, that FOIA request turned into my first FOIA lawsuit. And, earlier this month, I received my first FOIA judgment, which, I’m happy to report, is also my first FOIA-lawsuit victory. In a 17-page decision, US District Court Judge Jack McConnell cited Serial and Making A Murderer, wrote “Public scrutiny of judicial proceedings produces a myriad of social benefits,” and ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to fork over the requested documents within 60 days.
Columbia Journalism Review

Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work, an Associated Press investigation has found. Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But the AP's review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained. No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur. But the AP, through records requests to state agencies and big-city police departments, found law enforcement officers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found.

Kentucky officials have warned social service workers they could face disciplinary action "up to and including dismissal" for talking to the news media without permission. The warning, in an email Friday from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to all employees, follows several news stories in which social workers who investigate child abuse and neglect have voiced growing frustration about acute staff shortages and rising caseloads they say puts them and the families they serve in danger.

A Texas community college that won a state “transparency” award is charging $2,340 to disclose the school’s travel records. The state attorney general says not so much. Last May, sought the travel expenses of administrators and board members at San Antonio’s Alamo Colleges for 2014 and 2015. Alamo Colleges attorney Ross Laughead responded with a three-page letter estimating that 130 hours of staff time would be required to compile the information. “The request requires manipulation of data,” Laughead wrote on May 23. Texas Bureau


A certain degree of confidentiality is necessary when companies are scouting locations. But their business interests should not override the public interest in knowing what government is up to. And — as residents in Richmond know all too well — the proliferation of economic development authorities makes learning the details of business-to-government deals difficult. EDAs are not private entities, yet they are exempt from the state’s Public Procurement Act. Their members are appointed, which insulates them from having to answer to the public — even though they are spending public money. The Niagara Bottling project is on the level. It meets zoning criteria and has obtained the required permits. Still, legitimate questions remain about the scope of powers that have been delegated to unelected, unaccountable economic development authorities. Most EDAs use their power for good. But what recourse do taxpayers have in the rare cases when they don’t?
Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the past two weeks, two incidents — one in Tulsa, Okla., and one in Charlotte — have tested those cities and the nation at large. We have seen unsettlingly familiar scenes play out as officer-involved shootings have precipitated widespread outrage and, in North Carolina, dangerous violence that left several law enforcement officers injured and one protester dead. However, there was also a stark difference in how each city handled these incidents and the pressure of what information to release, and when. In Oklahoma, city officials were immediately forthcoming, providing video of the incident and a promise to be forthcoming about what happened — which they were. In North Carolina, officials were dismissive of citizen concerns and sluggish to respond, prolonging unrest by people who wanted answers. A state law passed this year will require interested parties to obtain a court order before an agency will release body camera footage, unnecessarily complicating the process further. That the North Carolina experience is more common — with officials creating and hiding behind exemptions in open records laws — speaks to a profound problem in the way these investigations are handled and in the potential damage it can do to citizen confidence in law enforcement.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to create the position and office of independent police auditor on Tuesday, Sept. 20, creating the first civilian, independent oversight of law enforcement in Fairfax County. The unanimous vote demonstrated the board’s commitment to the ongoing process that began early in 2015 when Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova established the 32-member Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.
Connection Newspapers