Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’


FOI Daily Dose: Virginia county supervisor questions closed meeting discussion

A Virginia county supervisor called out fellow supervisors for violating Virginia’s open government laws during a closed session performance evaluation, according to The Virginia Gazette.

Before and after the closed session on July 23, supervisors had to certify that they would only discuss issues related to the performance of a county administrator.

But the day after the closed session, James County Supervisor Jim Kennedy emailed other supervisors saying he was “uncomfortable” that they also used the meeting to discuss the issue of keeping backyard chickens.

Virginia lawmakers have been in an ongoing debate about homeowners’ rights to keep and raise chickens for eggs and food. Raising chickens in some residential areas is illegal.

Kennedy said he brought the issue up for discussion at the meeting, but he did not intend the discussion to result in policy and “pages of notes,” according to The Gazette.

“I believe we all participated in a violation of public trust, and went outside the scope of the closed session and would ask (county attorney) Leo (Rogers) for his opinion,” Kennedy said in an email.

Supervisors are not supposed to discuss any material not related to an administrator’s evaluation during a closed session. Kennedy thinks their discussion was not relevant to the evaluation. Other supervisors say it was.

“Our discussions were entirely appropriate,” Supervisor John McGlennon told The Gazette. “I would say it was entirely appropriate for the Board, in evaluating the county administrator and the county attorney, to discuss issues related to our expectations of the administrator and provide direction to county staff on what the Board is concerned about.”

Rogers told The Virginia Gazette on July 26 that he was not present during the closed session, so he cannot make an opinion on whether or not the discussion was for evaluation purposes. But Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said if the administrators certified the closed session and knowingly discussed other matters, they’re breaking the law.

“Certainly I can see why it’s difficult to stick to the topic, but it absolutely has to be done,” Rhyne told The Gazette.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI Daily Dose: Virginia adds FOIA exemptions; Michigan columnist says attempts to further state public records don’t go far enough

Virginia adds FOIA exemptions

Virginia’s General Assembly added new exemptions and language to the state’s Freedom of Information Act on July 1, making information more difficult to obtain, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council said of the 16 bills passed in the 2013 legislative session, four add new exemptions and 12 amend existing provisions.

The new exemptions effective until July 1, 2014, include:

  • An exemption allowing hospitals and nursing homes regulated by the Virginia Department of Health to withhold documents about disaster recovery and evacuation plans until an evaluation of the plans’ effectiveness after a disaster occurs
  • An exemption allowing parties giving trade secrets to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to keep their secrets safe by following a set of procedures
  • An exemption allowing airports to withhold documents related to their funding if releasing them would financially harm the airport
  • An exemption allowing the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Services Council to withhold records about training state prosecutors and law enforcement personnel that could compromise confidential strategies, methods or procedures

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council offers a full legislative update reviewing the changes.

Michigan columnist says attempts to further state’s public records law don’t go far enough

Representatives in Michigan have proposed legislation to make the state’s public records more easily attainable and create an administration hearing panel for records disputes. But a political columnist for MLive.com says the proposed measures to do not go far enough.

According to a July 8 post, columnist Matthew Davis said steps toward more transparency in the FOIA statute (see previous blog post) are headed in the right direction, but need more teeth to keep government in line.

Davis argues the act should require government agencies to pay for citizens’ time, efforts and attorneys fees for disclosure disputes when the government loses its case. He also thinks exemptions in the act should be limited to protecting information that is “truly sensitive” or could directly disrupt government operation. Read his column

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI DAILY DOSE: SEC to reward whistleblowers, U-Va. caves to FOI pressure

SEC rewards

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved rules May 25 that could encourage whistleblowers to warn the agency of potential securities violations with an effective new motivator: money.

Under the new rules, whistleblowers may reap the benefits of helping the SEC ferret out fraud and other problems. If their information helps the SEC collect money via subsequent enforcement methods, whistleblowers could receive between 10 percent and 30 percent of the funds.

The SEC approved the rewards program despite fierce opposition from corporations that lobbied for constraints, not incentives, for whistleblowers.

SEC commissioners rejected calls by businesses to require whistleblowers to notify companies they plan to accuse so they can address the issues.

U-Va.’s Climategate

The University of Virginia has agreed, along with a conservative advocacy group, to turn over requested documents related to global warming researcher and former university professor Michael Mann by Aug. 22.

The American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center and state legislator  Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) requested about 9,000 pages of records, according to the university. About 20 percent of the requested records have already been released.

This isn’t the only records request centered on Mann’s research. Virginia’s Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, asked for similar information. Both Cuccinelli and ATI said they want the documents to see if scientists attempted to skew data to show the earth had experienced a recent and quick warming.

Mann believes his research has been targeted by organizations that disagree with his conclusions, according to a post on the Washington Post blog “Virginia Politics.”

U-Va. is fighting Cuccinelli’s subpoena in the courtroom, and the case will be heard by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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