Transparency News 9/9/13


Monday, September 9, 2013
State and Local Stories


Personal data for 13,000 state employees was inadvertently sent to 11 state human resource and payroll employees. The personal information included employee names and Social Security numbers, according to a statement from Anne Waring, Virginia Department of Human Resource Management communications manager. The department was notified by Conexis, Anthem’s subcontractor for Flexible Spending Account Services, which sent the personal data of flexible spending account participants to the human resource and payroll staffers.
Roanoke Times

As chairman of a Henrico County schools’ educational advisory council, TechnoMarketing President Joe Winston had extensive access to the director of the district’s Career and Technical Education department, which also was buying promotional products from his company. Winston, the husband of former Henrico School Board member Diana D. Winston, had close ties to Mac R. Beaton, the CTE director, who personally sent at least one purchase order to TechnoMarketing and attended the company’s 2013 expo at the Richmond International Raceway’s Torque Club. Emails obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch through a Freedom of Information Act request show the close relationship between the two men and shed new light on the extent of Joe Winston’s advisory role and business activity in the school district his wife was elected to oversee. In response to a FOIA request for emails between Winston and Beaton dating to 2009, school officials said a few documents were withheld because they involved personnel records and confidential student information.

Signs posted on Bedford properties informing passersby of upcoming land use decisions may be sticking around. County officials previously considered eliminating the public notification practice. The Bedford County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve a resolution at tonight’s 7:30 p.m. meeting to modify a set of comprehensive amendments to an article of the zoning ordinance that proposed rescinding the method of posting signs. Board members consented to nixing the signs at a meeting in August but since have expressed a desire to keep the practice intact, according to a memo from County Attorney Carl Boggess.
News & Advance

Counsel representing the family of Patricia Ann Cook in her $5 million wrongful death lawsuit isseeking access to the personnel, training and disciplinary files of the former Culpeper policeman who killed her last February and was convicted of manslaughter in the East Street shooting earlier this year. The town of Culpeper claims the police files of Daniel Harmon-Wright are privileged and protected, and is seeking to quash the subpoena requesting it from the town and Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins, plaintiff in the wrongful death suit.
Culpeper Star-Exponent

National Stories

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with 21 news media organizations and journalism associations, have filed comments asking the Department of Health and Human Services to proactively post granular datasets about “incredibly newsworthy” Medicare physician payments online. The call for data release comes in response to an HHS request for comments as it considers policy changes by its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A 1979 injunction, which was lifted in May after a legal challenge by Dow Jones & Co. and a medical data consulting firm prevented the release of Medicare physician payment information.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Florida news organizations are planning to attend a hearing on Monday to fight a judge's order not to publish the arrest report of a man accused of attempting to murder a 9-year-old girl at a Best Buy restroom. Duval County Circuit Court Judge Adrian G. Soud prohibited news organizations from publishing portions of the arrest report of James Patrick Tadros, who is charged with false imprisonment, criminal mischief and attempted murder, until he rules on the issue following Monday's hearing with news organizations.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Sauk Village (Ill.) officials say they have received so many Freedom of Information Act requests in the last year, it is beginning to weigh on village coffers and slow daily operations. Village Clerk Debbie Williams said Sauk Village has been asked to fulfill more than 100 FOIA requests in the last year, including 18 on Aug. 27 alone. Things started to get out of hand in the politically divided municipality about five years ago, she said. "There's no rhyme or reason to this," Williams said. "They're making a sham of the FOIA system." The village is considering adding a page to its official website publishing the names of the most frequent FOIA requesters including the cost and time spent by attorneys and staff on each request. Similar sites already exist for Chicago, Lisle and Oswego School District 308.
NWI Times

When asked under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Lansing State Journal to review their contracts, a Michigan Economic Development Corporation official said it would cost $1,700 just to allow a reporter to review the contacts. And an Michigan Department of Transportaion official said the agency would need tens of thousands of dollars before making the information available for review — information similar to what Department of Technology, Management & Budget offers online.
Lansing State Journal

After disclosures about the National Security Agency’s stealth campaign to counter Internet privacy protections, a congressman has proposed legislation that would prohibit the agency from installing “back doors” into encryption, the electronic scrambling that protects e-mail, online transactions and other communications. Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who is also a physicist, said that he believed the N.S.A. was overreaching and could hurt American interests, including the reputations of American companies whose products the agency may have altered or influenced.
New York Times

Supposedly venomous and embarrassing emails Eliot Spitzer allegedly sent from a private email account while serving as attorney general are at the center of an appeal that could decide whether the government has an obligation under the Freedom of Information Law to track down the personal correspondence of a public official who has left office. The appeal involves a former top official of American International Group (AIG), Howard Smith, who claims he has a right under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to obtain the former attorney general's private emails, and one of Spitzer's successors, who says he has neither the obligation nor authority to obtain documents which are not under government control or custody. Oral arguments took place Thursday afternoon.
New York Law Journal

On Nov. 18, 20 members of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Arizona State University confronted three members of a rival fraternity at a Tempe, Ariz., apartment complex. The fight ended with a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity member in the emergency room with a concussion and broken jaw. Tau Kappa Epsilon is now on probation from the university as a result.  A year earlier, Sigma Nu fraternity at Northern Arizona University blindfolded pledges and spirited them off campus. The pledges were only made to repeat facts about the fraternity, but blindfolding them violated the university's anti-hazing policy. The fraternity was put on probation for a year. A student or parent would never learn about these disciplinary actions from looking at the Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University websites dedicated to Greek life, however. The discipline history of local chapters is not available online. The University of Arizona is the only one of the three state universities and the only member of the Pac-12 Conference to make fraternity discipline histories available online, The Arizona Republic has found.
USA Today

A Louisiana Republican has introduced a bill to put an end to taxpayers footing the bill for official, commissioned portraits of Washington’s movers and shakers. According to the Los Angeles Times, Rep. Bill Cassidy introduced the legislation – called the EGO Act, or Eliminating Government-funded Oil Painting – after reports the Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $40,000 for former administrator Lisa Jackson’s portrait.
Fox News


Daily Press: We need a redefined vision of transparency and ethics reform is a long-delayed, logical step. While Gov. McDonnell, not unlike a steroid-juiced home-run hitter, might have an asterisk trailing a list of his numerous accomplishments, he should lead those reform efforts. It's the ethical thing to do.

Dick Hammerstrom, Free Lance-Star: Fairfax County courts recently brought a bit more transparency to  judicial activities in the Northern Virginia county.  The clerk and chief judge of the circuit court judge apparently got together in Fairfax and began posting written circuit court opinions on the Internet.  Of course, not everyone wants to spend an evening digesting a 22-page ruling on the validity of various mechanics’ liens, but it’s available if  that’s your thing.

Times-Dispatch: “I want to take a stand for Jesus,” says Marshall Ecker. Those words might not doom Pittsylvania’s appeal of a recent court ruling, but they should. Ecker says he wants to take a stand for Jesus. As a private citizen, he is perfectly welcome to. But as a public official, he has no more business standing for Jesus than another supervisor would have standing for the Prophet Muhammad or Lord Shiva. And we wonder whether, were another supervisor actually to do so, Ecker might be among those protesting such a First Amendment violation the loudest.

Josh Voorhees, Slate: The latest Edward Snowden-fueled revelation about the NSA's secret spy programs dropped Thursday evening, courtesy of a rather impressive team effort between the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica. The top-line takeaway, in the words of the Times, is that the NSA is "winning its long-running secret war on encryption." My colleague Ryan Gallagher has much more on the news over on Future Tense (where he points out that the government may be winning that war, but it certainly hasn't won it yet). But after reading up on the covert encryption-breaking program known as "Bullrun" and its predecessor "Manassas," you might be left with the same question as several of us in the Slate newsroom: Why the heck did the NSA decide to name the covert programs after battles in the American Civil War?