Transparency News 9/5/19



September 5, 2019


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state & local news stories


Emails obtained through FOIA show an RTD opinion piece endorsing the Coliseum development was written by the developer, not VCU's president.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch published two columns endorsing a controversial downtown redevelopment project that was signed by local university presidents but written by the developer, Navy Hill District Corporation. VCU President Michael Rao signed his name to a January 6, 2019 Times-Dispatch opinion piece endorsing the Richmond Coliseum redevelopment deal that was drafted by a NH District Corp spokesperson, emails show. Jeff Thomas, an author of several books on Virginia’s recent political history and critic of the redevelopment deal, first obtained the emails between Jeff Kelley, a spokesperson for the developer, and Rao’s office in January 2019 via a Freedom of Information Act request. He passed the emails to the progressive group Activate Virginia, which later published them online and sent them to several area reporters.
Virginia Public Media

An audit of spending for adult services in programs administered by the Roanoke Department of Social Services found a former supervisor oversaw thousands of improper expenditures — including paying her own mother to care for clients for whom there were not records. The former adult services supervisor was not named in the report from Roanoke’s municipal auditor, or during a Wednesday meeting of the city’s audit committee. Municipal Auditor Drew Harmon said the woman died after leaving her job for health reasons in June 2017.
The Roanoke Times

Emails between Bristol, Tennessee, officials about the Sixth Street dining strip project — which eliminated parking in downtown Bristol and drew complaints from a number of business owners — reveal that city leaders realize they should have done a better job communicating with those affected. In July, the city expanded a strip of sidewalk on Sixth Street between Shelby Street and State Street to encourage outdoor dining, which eliminated nine parking spaces. The loss of parking and other issues caused by the strip led business owners to speak out against it at the Aug. 6 City Council meeting. Emails related to the project between late June and late August were obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Bristol Herald Courier


stories of national interest

Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. have argued to Chicago city officials that the names of their drivers should be treated as “trade secrets,” and should not be released because competitors could use the information to attempt to hire them away.  This year, Chicago denied a Freedom of Information Act request asking for the names of drivers for use in an academic project. In a letter related to the request reviewed by Bloomberg, the city explained that it could not release the names in part because the companies had asserted that “would cause competitive harm specifically by allowing their competitors to target and ‘poach’ their drivers.” The request is now being reviewed by the Illinois attorney general’s office. Peter Norlander, a Loyola University Chicago business school assistant professor, requested the names in 2018 and again this year as part of an effort to research the overlap between the ride-hailing companies’ workforces. 

A tentative schedule has been set to roll out potentially thousands of pages of documents that could reveal more names of people allegedly involved in the late financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking operation. At a status conference in New York Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska set a timeline for review of an initial batch of more than 160 documents, which will be organized into categories and examined in the coming weeks. The initial judge in the civil case agreed to have nearly everything sealed, but an appeals court earlier this year ruled that the documents should be made public. At issue is how those documents will be released and when.

At the heart of a decisive court ruling on Tuesday striking down North Carolina’s state legislative maps was evidence culled from the computer backups of the man who drew them: Thomas B. Hofeller, the Republican strategist and master of gerrymandering, who died last year. Documents from the backups, which surfaced after his death, were also central to the legal battle over adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. An enormous stash of digital files, covering Mr. Hofeller’s work in almost every state, has yet to be examined. But in a state court in Raleigh, N.C., another courtroom battle is underway. Its aim is to ensure that those files are never publicly scrutinized.
The New York Times


quote_2.jpgReleasing the name of Uber/Lyft drivers “would cause competitive harm specifically by allowing their competitors to target and ‘poach’ their drivers.” 


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"Increased public awareness of government’s activities should be government’s goal."

Your state tax money is helping to fund a tourism group in the Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. If you were so inclined, shouldn’t you be able to look at the group’s records or attend its meetings to make sure your money is being spent wisely? Absolutely you should. But that wasn’t clear until Attorney General Mark Herring recently issued an opinion explicitly stating that the organization is a public body under the law and should be open to public scrutiny. Increased public awareness of government’s activities should be government’s goal. Every opportunity should be provided to facilitate such openness. And where the Freedom of Information Act is in play, the act should be interpreted liberally — that is, openness should be government’s first impulse and final preference. The debate over the Tourism Council’s status might have been confined to the Historic Triangle. But the principle of open government is universal and applicable to every government body throughout every corner of Virginia.
The Daily Progress