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OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • March 14, 2019
Las Vegas Review-Journal: How Las Vegas Metro police kept sex trafficking records under wraps
Seven hundred forty-five days.
As of Sunday, that’s how long the Review-Journal has been battling the Metropolitan Police Department for sex trafficking and prostitution records.
The fight began with public records requests. Las Vegas is regarded as a hot spot for trafficking and prostitution, so the newspaper wanted to know how local police were responding. In February 2017, a reporter began asking for arrest reports, investigative files and other documents.
Metro responded with endless rounds of arguments, obfuscation and outright refusals.
In May 2018, the Review-Journal sued. Metro has since provided some documents — after being chastised by the court. But the case is still ongoing and several of the most critical records have yet to be released.
AP: As newspapers close, role of government watchdog disappears
One of the last investigations Jim Boren oversaw before he retired as executive editor of The Fresno Bee was a four-month examination of substandard housing in the city at the heart of California’s Central Valley.
The multimedia project revealed the living conditions imposed on many of the city’s low-income renters, many of them immigrants: apartments filled with mold, mice and cockroaches, to name some of the more glaring problems. Local housing advocates compared it to the tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The investigation got immediate results.
“We made people’s lives better. We changed laws,” said Boren, who retired in 2017 and is now director of the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State University.
Among other things, the city responded by requiring property owners to make repairs when it found violations, rather than just levy fines.
“Those are the kinds of things that journalists do,” Boren said.
It’s the kind of journalism — holding local government officials accountable for problems that affect the lives of real people — that is in danger of being lost in many communities around the country.
Newspapers are closing or being consolidated at an astounding rate, often leaving behind what researchers label as news deserts — towns and even entire counties that have no consistent local media coverage.
According to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina, more than 1,400 towns and cities in the U.S. have lost a newspaper over the past 15 years. Many of those are in rural and lower-income areas, often with an aging population.
Cutbacks in local news leave some communities in the dark
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (AP) — Five minutes late, Darrell Todd Maurina sweeps into a meeting room and plugs in his laptop computer. He places a Wi-Fi hotspot on the table and turns on a digital recorder. The earplug in his left ear is attached to a police scanner in his pants pocket.
Maurina, who posts his work to Facebook, represents the press — in its entirety.
He is the only person who has come to the Pulaski County courthouse to tell residents what their commissioners are up to, the only one who will report on their deliberations about how to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency so it will pay to repair a road inundated during a 2013 flood.
Last September, this community in central Missouri's Ozark hills became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, it joined more than 1,400 other cities and towns across the U.S. to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University of North Carolina.
The reasons for the closures vary. But the result is that many Americans no longer have someone watching the city council for them, chronicling the soccer exploits of their children or reporting on the kindly neighbor who died.
In many places, local journalism is dying in plain sight.
The Kansas City Star: Hawley insider had seat at table in Secretary of State inquiry that cleared senator
A top lieutenant and campaign donor to Josh Hawley was allowed to sit in on interviews conducted as part of the investigation into whether Hawley illegally used government resources to support his successful bid for U.S. Senate.
The arrangement, detailed in documents obtained by The Kansas City Star under Missouri’s open records laws, has drawn criticism from some legal experts, who say it compromises the legitimacy of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s conclusions.
“As a general rule, no serious investigator, civil or criminal, would voluntarily invite representatives of the party being investigated to sit in on initial witness interviews,” said Frank Bowman, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. “Not only is there an intimidation factor, particularly where the target is a sitting U.S. senator, but letting the target be represented in the interviews allows the target to shape his own response and to coach potential witnesses.”
AP: Arkansas Lawmakers Advancing More Limits on Public Records
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two years after the Arkansas Legislature scaled back the state's decades-old law protecting public access to government records, lawmakers are considering making even more information secret.
Proposals to expand state secrecy surrounding its executions and making the identity of some lottery winners confidential were endorsed by legislative panels last week. Other measures also are under consideration to shield information about law enforcement and investigations.
Open government advocates say they're trying to avoid a repeat of the 2017 session, when the Legislature enacted a series of bills that critics called an unprecedented assault on the state's 1967 Freedom of Information Act. Lawmakers in 2017 enacted measures that keep a host of information closed to the public, including details on university police and state Capitol security.
"It's death by a thousand cuts. When you keep chipping away, eventually those chips add up," said Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. "That's what we're seeing. It's just exemptions where we feel like they're not necessary exemptions."
Kaiser Health News: Hidden FDA Reports Detail Harm Caused By Scores Of Medical Devices
Dr. Douglas Kwazneski was helping a Pittsburgh surgeon remove an appendix when something jarring happened. The surgical stapler meant to cut and seal the tissue around the appendix locked up.
Kwazneski later turned to the Food and Drug Administration’s public database that tracks medical device failures and “there was nothing,” he said. Yet when he surveyed leading surgeons on the matter, he discovered that more than two-thirds had experienced a stapler malfunction, or knew a peer who did. Such failures can have deadly consequences.
Kwazneski had no idea the FDA had quietly granted the makers of surgical staplers a special “exemption” allowing them to file reports of malfunctions in a database hidden from doctors and from public view.
“I don’t want to sound overdramatic here, but it seemed like a cover-up,” said Kwazneski, who practiced in Pasco County, Fla., from 2016 through earlier this year.
The FDA has built and expanded a vast and hidden repository of reports on device-related injuries and malfunctions, a Kaiser Health News investigation shows. Since 2016, at least 1.1 million incidents have flowed into the internal “alternative summary reporting” repository, instead of being described individually in the widely scrutinized public database known as MAUDE, which medical experts trust to identify problems that could put patients in jeopardy.
Journalist’s Resource: How they did it: Public records helped reporters investigate police abuse of power
In the investigative series, “Criminal Justice in Elkhart, Indiana,” two journalists uncovered serious abuses of power in the city’s police department — showing, for example, how the police chief promoted 18 supervisors with disciplinary records and bringing to light the fact that two officers who repeatedly punched a handcuffed man in the face received only a written reprimand.
The series demonstrates how the skillful use of public records — knowing which kinds of records exist, how to get them and what to do when government officials block or delay access — can help reporters spotlight problems and initiate change in a community. The yearlong investigation by Christian Sheckler, a public safety reporter at the South Bend Tribune, and Ken Armstrong, a senior reporter at ProPublica, led to the police chief’s resignation and prompted the mayor to seek an independent review of the department’s policies and practices.
Almost a year after the two Elkhart policemen were captured on video beating a handcuffed man in the face more than 10 times — a video that became public only after Sheckler and Armstrong began investigating — authorities charged the two officers with battery.
In early 2018, the two journalists already had begun looking into problems with the Indiana police department’s handling of criminal investigations when Sheckler heard that two officers were disciplined for excessive use of force during a separate incident. He decided to check it out. He asked to see the officers’ personnel files and for other records, including the police department’s video of the incident, which took place in a police station detention center.
As is often the case when requesting records, Sheckler said he was not sure what they would show. He knew, though, that reviewing different kinds of records connected to the same incident would help him get a fuller understanding of what happened and how it was handled by the city.
What Sheckler and Armstrong discovered in those records helped them demonstrate that some Elkhart officers were not being appropriately disciplined.
Honolulu Civil Beat: Shining Sunlight On The Honolulu Police Chief’s Performance
When Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard receives her inaugural job evaluation next week, the Honolulu Police Commission will for the first time in memory make public the details of a chief’s annual review.
In a move intended to boost transparency and restore public confidence in the review process, the commissioners assessed Ballard’s performance using a new, more inclusive process. It draws on the input of more than two dozen government and community organizations, as well as interviews with police officers and self-evaluation materials provided by Ballard.
Police Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan and Commissioner Steven Levinson said they set out to revamp the review process in January due to concerns about the fairness of past procedures and a desire to better integrate the opinions of community stakeholders.
“We are not fans of the approach that past commissions have taken at times of circling the wagons and forcing a lawsuit ordering them to disclose information as a precondition to them disclosing information that the law clearly defines as accessible to the public,” Levinson said.
Times News (Twin Falls Idaho):: Open meetings: The key to government transparency
There’s more to open government than public records requests.
In his Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says the Idaho Legislature formalized the state’s commitment to open government when it enacted the 1974 Idaho Open Meeting Law. The law, he says, codifies the Idaho value that “the public’s business ought to be done in public.”
Idaho’s open meeting law applies to a governing body — defined in state statutes as members of any public agency having two or more members “with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter.”
Sunshine Week — which runs from March 10 to March 16 this year — is an annual initiative to promote government transparency and push back against unnecessary secrecy among officials. In past years, Times-News reporters and other news agencies have participated in Sunshine Week by filing hefty public records requests to examine or copy specified public records.
This year, the newspaper’s focus is on Idaho’s Open Meeting Law. For Sunshine Week, reporters attended a host of county and city meetings to evaluate just how well local government officials are following the intent of the law.
For each of these meetings, reporters analyzed whether cities and counties were posting meeting notices and agendas and conducting public business in a truly open fashion. The observations went beyond what’s in state statutes. Assistant Chief Deputy to the Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane offered up a few of his own tips for what governments should practice when having public meetings.
Politico Morning Media: Journalist Protection Act introduced, making physical attacks against journalists a federal crime
PROTECTING THE FOURTH ESTATE: During "Sunshine Week," lawmakers are shining a light on protecting journalists from the hostilities that confront those in media. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Bob Menedez (D-N.J.), as well as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), introduced the Journalist Protection Act on Tuesday to make physical attacks and threats of such attacks against journalists a federal crime.
- The lawmakers pointed to the Trump administration's tense relationship with the media, with the president often referring to outlets as "fake news" and the "enemy of the people." "Under this administration, reporters face a near-constant barrage of verbal threats, casting the media as enemies of the American people and possible targets of violence," Blumenthal said in a statement.
- The NewsGuild-CWA and NABET-CWA unions, which represent 30,000 reporters, correspondents, photographers, field producers and newsgathering broadcast employees, have praised the lawmakers' bill. "American journalists are facing assaults, threats, intimidation and even murder simply for fulfilling their First Amendment duties by reporting the news," Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild, said in a statement.
Courier-Journal: Kentucky State Police must hand over crime database to Courier Journal, judge rules
In a victory for the Courier Journal, a Franklin Circuit Court judge has ruled Kentucky State Police must provide the news organization with its entire database of 8 million citations and arrests since 2003.
The state police agency had said it would be too time-consuming to manually redact Social Security numbers and other confidential information from its existing system and too expensive to create a new one that would allow it to be done electronically.
But Judge Thomas Wingate affirmed an attorney general's opinion that the data is a public record and must be provided.
Ruling in a 10-page opinion on March 1, Wingate held that "case law is clear that an agency should not be able to rely on any inefficiency in its own internal record keeping system to thwart an otherwise proper open records request."
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • March 7, 2019
Lexington Herald-Leader: Expert: Kentucky lawmakers take ‘a wrecking ball’ to Open Records Act with House bill
A Kentucky House panel late Tuesday vastly expanded the scope of a bill to weaken the state’s Open Records Act, adding new sections that would help the legislature shield its own documents from public view and limit the right to file records requests to Kentucky residents.
“I walked into that hearing last night thinking this bill was going to be bad enough, but then they went and made it even worse. They really want a government that operates in darkness,” said Amye Bensenhaver, a former assistant attorney general who is an authority on Kentucky’s open records and open meetings laws.
Originally, House Bill 387 — now headed to the House floor — would have created several additional exemptions in the open records law to conceal information about state economic development incentives offered to companies. This was intended, in part, to thwart open records lawsuits involving public incentives offered to Amazon in Louisville and Braidy Industries in northeastern Kentucky.
A substitute version of the bill, adopted by the House Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment, kept that language but added more.
Only Kentucky residents would be eligible to use the Open Records Act, not all people, as the law presently allows.
South Bend Tribune: Judge rejects Indiana city's subpoena for newspaper records
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected the City of Elkhart's attempt to force a newspaper to turn over records of its reporting on a Chicago man who was pardoned after a decade in prison and is suing the Indiana city for wrongful conviction.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch ruled this week that the city's subpoena against the South Bend Tribune was "misplaced."
The issue began after the South Bend Tribune and nonprofit news agency ProPublica published an investigation into the wrongful conviction of 51-year-old Keith Cooper.
Cooper was convicted in a 1996 robbery in Elkhart but was pardoned in February 2017 by Gov. Eric Holcomb, who cited new DNA evidence pointing to another suspect and a witness recanting testimony.
The city's subpoena sought records of communications between Tribune journalists, Cooper and Cooper's lawyer. It alleged the newspaper was biased and working with Cooper to further his lawsuit against the city.
Orange Street News: Kid reporter gets apology after dust-up with Arizona marshal
PATAGONIA, Ariz. (AP) — A 12-year-old reporter has received an apology after an Arizona marshal tried to stop her from following him.
Hilde Lysiak posted video Thursday on her website, Orange Street News , of Patagonia's mayor saying officials "sincerely apologize" that her First Amendment rights had been violated.
Lysiak was following a tip while on her bicycle on Feb. 18 when a town marshal in his patrol vehicle stopped her.
According to Lysiak, the marshal threatened to put her in jail if she continued to follow law enforcement.
In video from their interaction, the marshal tells her she can film him but sharing the footage online is illegal.
Mayor Andrea Wood said at a town council meeting that officials encourage Lysiak's reporting aspirations.
The marshal has said that the girl was interfering.
AP: Trump says he'll issue order protecting campus free speech
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump announced Saturday he would soon sign an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal resources.
Trump is highlighting concerns from some conservatives that their voices were being censored, whether on social media or at the nation's universities. He did not go into more detail about what the order would say, but his comments immediately drew scrutiny from those who noted that public research universities already have a constitutional obligation to protect free speech.
"An executive order is unnecessary as public research universities are already bound by the First Amendment, which they deeply respect and honor," said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. "It is core to their academic mission."
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Feb. 28, 2019
AP: Arizona marshal faces backlash over dustup with kid reporter
PATAGONIA, AZ — A confrontation between an intrepid 12-year-old reporter and an Arizona marshal has ignited a debate about press freedom, with social media mostly branding one brave and the other a bully.
Marshal Joseph Patterson, who serves the border town of Patagonia, said Friday that he has received hundreds of calls to the marshals' office, including death threats, since a young journalist alleged that he threatened to put her in jail.
"If I get hurt, that's on me. I signed up for this job a long time ago," Patterson told The Associated Press. "However, I don't need help from a 12-year-old girl and the internet."
Hilde Kate Lysiak posted video from their interaction Monday in Patagonia, roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the Mexico border, on her newspaper's website , Orange Street News. She was on her bicycle following a tip when Patterson stopped her, Lysiak wrote. The young journalist identified herself as a member of the media and gave her name and phone number.
That's when Patterson made a remark about not wanting to hear about press freedom and threatened to arrest her, according to Lysiak.
An Arizona cop threatened to arrest a 12-year-old journalist. She wasn’t backing down.
When a small-town Arizona cop stopped a 12-year-old reporter who was chasing down a story tip on Monday, he probably had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Hilde Kate Lysiak, the preteen journalist whose exploits have inspired a Scholastic book series and an upcoming TV show, made a name for herself in 2016 by being the first to report on a grisly murder in her hometown, then firing back at the haters who suggested that a 9-year-old girl shouldn’t be hanging around crime scenes. Since then, she has continued to break news about bank robberies, alleged rapes and other lurid crimes in the Orange Street News, the paper that she publishes out of her parents’ home in Selinsgrove, Pa.
“NOTE TO DEALERS: OSN Will Not Be Intimidated,” she wrote last month, after reportedly receiving threats because she had published text message exchanges between an alleged drug dealer and a woman whom he had reportedly solicited for sex.
So naturally, she didn’t back down when Joseph Patterson, the town marshal in Patagonia, Ariz., allegedly threatened to throw her in juvenile jail on Monday, then falsely claimed it would be illegal for her to film him and publish the video on the Internet. Instead, she posted their exchange on YouTube and in the Orange Street News — which in turn prompted town officials to discipline Patterson, as the Nogales International was the first to report on Wednesday.
The Greenville News: Sheriff's Office denied Greenville News reporter access to drag queen event at public library
A day after Greenville County Sheriff’s deputies denied access to a reporter for The Greenville News who was trying to cover a controversial event at a public library, an agency spokesman described the incident as a misunderstanding.
The reporter had planned to cover the Drag Queen Story Hour at the Five Forks branch of the Greenville County Library System on Sunday. Three days before, the reporter notified the Sheriff's Office about plans to be there to report on the story hour, which had drawn intense scrutiny from the public in the weeks since it had been announced.
Deputies at the door of the library told the reporter who had arrived an hour and 30 minutes before the event that no media was allowed inside.
That was a result of a misunderstanding, said Greenville County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Ryan Flood.
The reporter, Elizabeth LaFleur, had asked beforehand if there would be any issue with her carrying a bag. She planned to bring her laptop to write updates from the event site, and Flood had replied, “You all will be OK. Just make sure you have identification on you.”
But when she tried to enter the building on Sunday, she was directed to a group of deputies who conferred with library staff inside the building and then told her media was not allowed in according to library policy.
She left and covered protests outside the library.
Read more: https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/2019/02/18/greenville-sheriffs-office-denied-reporter-access-drag-queen-event/2909152002/?fbclid=IwAR1B0F16SP3dgpguuzH_8TLKLsmITWdyQIz939-pFoRGl1xP4MlYW15lJQM
AP: Court strikes down key part of Texas' open meetings law
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas' highest criminal court has struck down a key provision of the state's open meeting laws as "unconstitutionally vague."
The decision Wednesday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was swiftly criticized by open government advocates as a move that could weaken transparency in the state.
The ruling strikes at part of the law aimed at preventing officials from discussing government business outside view of the public. In a 7-2 decision, the all-Republican court struck down criminal penalties that officials could face for knowingly trying to circumvent a quorum for the purpose of taking part in "secret deliberations."
James Hemphill is president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He says the ruling removes an effective enforcement tool of the Texas Opens Meetings Act.
Richmond Times-Dispatch: Despite state law and its own policy, the Richmond School Board approved a budget the public hasn't seen
The details of a budget already approved by the Richmond School Board are still not public, an apparent violation of state open records law and the district’s own written policy. It’s a move that has sparked concern from community members, some members of the nine-person elected board and an open government advocate.
The board published a 31-page budget summary before its Monday night vote, a document that details the amount it will bring in but offers little detail about how that money will be spent. What it’s hiding is a 228-page budget filled with specific information on positions and programs that it was given by the city school system’s administration last week, a document it voted on — and approved in a 6-3 vote — Monday.
“It’s such basic government information,” said Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. “There’s no more foundational information than how this money will be received and spent, and they are not discussing this basic information in public.”
The approval included a $13 million slashing to the district’s budget and calls for the net elimination of 49 central office jobs. Despite calls from the public and a minority of the School Board, the specific jobs on the chopping block have not been made public.
“We missed an opportunity to build trust and show this city what good governance and transparency looks like,” said 3rd District representative Kenya Gibson, who voted against the budget, as did 5th District representative Patrick Sapini and 6th District representative Felicia Cosby.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Feb. 21, 2019
Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram: Maine paid for 40 rooms at Trump hotel for LePage, staff
AUGUSTA — Former Gov. Paul LePage and his staff members paid for more than 40 rooms at Washington, D.C.’s Trump International Hotel during a two-year period, spending at least $22,000 in Maine taxpayer money at a business owned by the president’s family.
Documents recently obtained by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram show that the LePage administration paid anywhere from $362 to more than $1,100 a night for rooms at the luxury hotel during trips to meet with President Trump or his inner circle, attend White House events or talk to members of Congress. Receipts from those dozen trips also show the Republican governor or his administration spending hundreds of dollars on filet mignon or other expensive menu items at the restaurant in the Trump hotel. Those expenditures are likely to draw additional scrutiny from attorneys who have cited LePage’s previously disclosed stays at the D.C. hotel in a federal lawsuit alleging the president is improperly profiting from the business.
The spending levels at the Trump hotel were so high that they were flagged by a worker in the state controller’s office, who sought guidance on state regulations for reimbursing such expenditures.
“The reason I am asking is because the Governor and some of his staff are staying in Washington, D.C. pretty frequently at the Trump International Hotel and the room cost is WAY more than the allowed amount,” the worker wrote to Deputy Controller Shirley Browne in June 2017, following a particularly costly month. “He is not attending a conference of any type but is meeting with the President, testifying, meeting with lawmakers and others, etc. so the normal exemptions (to state spending limits) do not apply.”
News-Press: Fort Myers police captain under investigation for alleged sex act during prostitution sting
A high-ranking Fort Myers police officer is under investigation, accused of engaging in a sex act with a woman who was the target of an undercover sting operation involving prostitution at area massage parlors.
A complaint filed in December against Capt. Jay Rodriguez accuses him of sexual contact with the woman while on duty in March 2013. Shortly after the act, she was arrested along with the owner of the massage parlor where she was working.
The News-Press has obtained a copy of the video, dated and time-stamped, purportedly showing the officer entering the business and appearing naked with a woman in her underwear. The officer can clearly be heard commenting on the sex act.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Former Reed official charged with violating open records law
The press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been cited for allegedly violating the Georgia Open Records Act in the first-ever criminal complaint filed in connection with the law, the state attorney general’s office announced Monday.
Jenna Garland, 34, the press secretary during Reed’s second term, is accused of ordering a subordinate in the city’s watershed department in March 2017 to delay handing over public records that contained information damaging to Reed and other city officials. The records were requested by Channel 2 Action News.
The two citations carry light punishment if Garland is convicted. Criminal violations of the law are misdemeanors punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and a year in jail, but jail time is unlikely. Still the complaints carry symbolic weight.
It’s rare for a public official — in Georgia or elsewhere — to face criminal consequences for obstructing the public’s right to know. The charges could serve as a jolt to cities, counties and state agencies that don’t comply with the law, experts said.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Feb. 7, 2019
Why journalists and the public should be concerned about Marsy’s Law
This past September, a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper shot and wounded a man who had physically attacked him during a traffic stop. The incident was investigated, and the trooper was cleared of any wrongdoing. His name was withheld from the public.
Then, in November, a South Dakota sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man who had allegedly fired at officers during a chase. The deputy’s name, too, was kept secret.
In January, a man walked into a bank in Sebring, Florida, and opened fire, killing all five people inside. Police only released to journalists and the public the names of two of the five victims; later, the families of two other victims released their names. The fifth victim’s family did not.
Also last month, two people were shot dead in a car in Tampa. Police refused to release their names. Police in Tallahassee refused to release much information about a body that was found in the middle of a neighborhood roundabout after an apparent car crash.
In most states – and, in the past, in Florida and South Dakota – the names of crime and accident victims, and the names of law enforcement officers involved in the use of lethal force, are part of the public record. No doubt about it.
Now, however, voters in Florida, South Dakota and nine other states (California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma) have approved constitutional amendments that provide extensive rights to crime victims.
Denver police officers disciplined for detaining journalist
DENVER (AP) — The Denver Police Department has disciplined two officers who handcuffed and detained a journalist who was photographing them as they were dealing with a man sitting naked on a public sidewalk.
The Denver Post reports disciplinary orders show the officers will each be docked two days' pay for the July 2018 encounter with Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent.
According to the disciplinary orders, the department determined the officers were in violation of police policy for detaining Greene for recording an officer in a public place.
Greene was put in a patrol car and released after about 10 minutes.
Greene says one of the officers initially approached her in a "ridiculously aggressive way" and that both told her to "act like a lady."
Bill defeated after lawmakers speak up for rural newspapers
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers speaking up in favor of local newspapers helped defeat a proposal that would have loosened requirements to post legal notices in the publications.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Republican sponsor Rep. Kim Coleman says the notices are costly and inefficient, and parties can be notified individually. Republican Marc Roberts agreed, saying he has never subscribed to a newspaper and even turned down a free offer from a neighbor.
But Republican Rep. Merrill Nelson objected, saying the notices give small publications important revenue in rural communities. Nelson says the idea would do more harm than good. Democrats joined in voting against the bill, which was defeated in a 39-35 vote.
Parents of 2 Parkland victims want Pulitzer for local paper
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Two parents who lost daughters in last year's Parkland, Florida, school shooting are calling for their local newspaper to win the Pulitzer Prize, saying the South Florida Sun Sentinel has stayed on the story to demand accountability long after the national media left.
The parents, Ryan Petty and Andrew Pollack, wrote an open letter to judges who decide the Pulitzer that was posted on the website Real Clear Education in recent days.
"If it wasn't for them, everyone would have just moved on," said Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among 17 people killed at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School last February. Petty's daughter Alaina was also killed.
The newspaper didn't know about the letter ahead of time, said Julie Anderson, editor-in-chief of the Sun Sentinel who called it "very gratifying." She said the newspaper has entered the competition for journalism's top prize. The Pulitzers will be announced at Columbia University on April 15.
"The work by the Sun Sentinel's reporters remind us of what journalism can and should be, and also what is being tragically lost as local newspapers downsize," their letter said.
New Mexico bill making media delete 'irrelevant' info pulled
A New Mexico lawmaker who faced questions about spending public funds before being elected pulled a bill Friday that would have forced media outlets to delete "irrelevant" material from their archives.
State Rep. Andrea Romero withdrew a measure she called the "Right to Be Forgotten Act" after she was hit with harsh criticism and accused of attacking the First Amendment.
Under the proposal, news organizations would have been required to take down information a person deemed "inaccurate, irrelevant, inadequate or excessive," or face steep fines.
The person could demand the material be removed if it was "no longer material to current public debate or discourse," according to the bill's language.
The bill drew strong reactions from media groups and transparency advocates for allowing the state government to potentially decide what information could remain on news sites.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government executive director Melanie Majors compared the proposal to walking into a library and destroying books.
Governor tightens Michigan FOIA rules, except for her office
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — New Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a directive Friday aimed at making it easier to obtain public documents from state departments but stopped short of taking the same action for the governor's office, one of just two nationwide wholly exempt from open-records laws.
The Democratic governor said she "absolutely" considered using her power to open the governor's office to record requests but decided it would be better for the Legislature to send her bills to sign. Lawmakers also are not covered by the state's 43-year-old Freedom of Information Act.
Massachusetts is the only other state to wholly exempt the governor's office, and Michigan is among eight states where the Legislature is explicitly exempt. Those exemptions were factors in Michigan receiving an "F'' grade on transparency and accountability in 2015 as part of a 50-state analysis done by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization.
Whitmer told reporters, editors and legislators gathered for the Michigan Press Association's annual luncheon in Grand Rapids that she preferred a statute for two reasons: longevity and leverage.
Newspaper sues Rhode Island for access to voter database
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Providence Journal has filed a lawsuit against Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, alleging she violated the law by denying the newspaper's request for a complete digital copy of the state voter database.
In November, Gorbea rejected the request for a digital copy of the database, saying identity theft is a concern for Rhode Island residents "who have made it clear to me they are not comfortable with the disclosure of their full name, full address and full date of birth."
The Journal reports the accuracy of the database has been called into question.
The newspaper contends voter database disclosures would not infringe privacy laws. The state argues the disclosure of full dates of birth serves no public interest.
Proposed Sunshine Law restrictions divide Missouri House along party lines
JEFFERSON CITY – Lawmakers are divided over a proposed change in the state Sunshine Law that would make communications between public officials at all levels of government and their constituents largely immune to records requests.
“The sole reason for this, and the sole intent of this, was to protect our constituents’ confidentiality and let them decide if that’s going to be leaked out the to media or not,” Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, said.
Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, proposed an amendment to Schroer’s proposal that would gut it except for restrictions on requesting Social Security numbers and other personal information. Carpenter’s amendment failed on a vote that went along party lines.
The changes would exempt “any correspondence, written or electronic, between a member of a public governmental body and a constituent pertaining to a constituent’s request for information” and exempt any document or record “received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body consisting of advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.”
“Having open and public records is vital to transparency in government, and I’ll continue to advocate for it,” Carpenter said.
TAKEN: We asked police for video of traffic stops. We didn't get much.
The Greenville News started requesting dashcam videos of traffic stops early in our investigation into civil forfeiture. For research purposes, it was a logical next step: many forfeiture cases stem from traffic stops, and dash camera video is a public record in South Carolina.
Court filings provided little information about the stops beyond the date they occurred and, occasionally, the intersection where the subject was pulled over. Dashcam video, on the other hand, would show us the entire encounter because the cameras automatically start recording once the blue lights on a patrol vehicle are activated.
Over a span of two months, The News submitted Freedom of Information requests to 15 law enforcement agencies, including sheriff’s offices in Greenville, Spartanburg, Greenwood, Sumter, Florence, Berkeley and Charleston counties as well as the South Carolina Highway Patrol. We requested videos from 49 traffic stops — the earliest was from Sept. 18, 2015, and the most recent was from Dec. 24, 2017.
In the end, The News was able to obtain 12 videos. The cost was about $133.
Read more: https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/taken/2019/02/05/sc-dashcam-video-civil-forfeiture-public-records/2458956002/?fbclid=IwAR3bZCo-SOpFPoiaByCdtIlE7nWfVLRGLhnUkS-W-_qsTJXH0gfNTI7NXC4
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 31, 2019
Columbia Journalism Review: Encryption efforts in Colorado challenge crime reporters, transparency
COLORADO JOURNALISTS ON THE CRIME BEAT are increasingly in the dark. More than two-dozen law enforcement agencies statewide have encrypted all of their radio communications, not just those related to surveillance or a special or sensitive operation. That means journalists and others can’t listen in using a scanner or smartphone app to learn about routine police calls.
Law enforcement officials say that’s basically the point. Scanner technology has become more accessible through smartphone apps, and encryption has become easier and less expensive. Officials say that encrypting all radio communications is good for police safety and effectiveness, because suspects sometimes use scanners to evade or target officers, and good for the privacy of crime victims, whose personal information and location can go out over the radio. They also cite misinformation as a reason to encrypt. Kevin Klein, the director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said people listening to scanner traffic during a 2015 Colorado Springs shooting live-tweeted the incident and, in doing so, spread false information about the shooter’s identity and the police response.
Houston Chronicle: Texas investigates possible open meetings violations by HISD trustees
The Texas Education Agency is investigating possible open meetings violations by some Houston ISD trustees last year when they engaged in private discussions that led to the abrupt ouster of Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.
TEA officials notified the district Tuesday that an investigation would begin following "multiple complaints" made to the agency over the vote to replace Lathan with former district superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, according to a letter sent to Lathan and HISD board President Diana Dávila. The Houston Chronicle reviewed a portion of the letter outlining the allegations.
"Houston ISD Board of Trustees may have violated The Open Meetings Act by deliberating district business prior to a regularly scheduled board meeting regarding the potential removal of the current interim superintendent and the installation of a new interim superintendent," the notice read.
TEA officials confirmed they opened a special accreditation investigation into HISD, though they declined to specify the nature of the inquiry.
ProPublica: We’re Expanding Our Washington Coverage
We’re going to be digging more into the work of the federal government. And we’re hiring reporters and an editor in Washington, D.C., to do it.
We won’t be covering the latest outrage or news of the day. What we’ll be doing is drilling deep into what’s actually happening inside the government.
Capital News Service: Lawmakers kill legislation to protect student journalists
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A legislative panel rejected a bill protecting student journalists from administrative censorship on a tie vote Monday.
House Bill 2382, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, would have protected free speech for student journalists in public elementary, middle and high schools, as well as public institutions of higher education.
A subcommittee of the House Education Committee deadlocked 3-3 on the bill after hearing testimony from students and faculty advisers from high schools and colleges across the commonwealth.
Kate Carson, a former writer and editor for The Lasso, the student newspaper at George Mason High School in Falls Church, said her school's administration censored several controversial topics the publication attempted to cover, including bathroom vandalism, absence policy abuse and a sexting scandal.
"As student journalists, we were perfectly positioned to report on these issues and separate fact from rumor," Carson said. "Instead, The Lasso was censored when we attempted to cover the vandalism and policy abuse. We didn't even attempt to cover the sexting scandal."
One teacher told the panel how her students' paper was shut down and she was removed as adviser after the students published an article about renovating the school.
"We have seen an increasing number of censorship cases in the commonwealth," Hurst said. Hurst said the bill seeks to reapply the Tinker standard to student free speech, which was established in a 1969 Supreme Court case. This standard requires administrators to have reasons for censoring content, Hurst said.
Ruling: Students' free speech, free press lawsuit to proceed
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge cleared the way Monday for a lawsuit to proceed against a Kansas City-area school district accused of violating students' free speech and free press rights last year during a nationwide walkout protesting gun violence.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled the students have presented a plausible claim that the Shawnee Mission School District violated their First Amendment rights by stopping speakers from talking about gun control or gun violence. The 17-minute walkout on April 20 was sparked by last year's school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
Robinson also found that the students have a plausible claim under the Kansas Student Publications Act after a school official confiscated a camera from a student journalist to prevent her from photographing the event for the student newspaper. The state law, passed in 1992, aims to protect student journalists from censorship of political or controversial material.
The judge said that the school district's act of confiscating the camera — alleged to have been loaned to the student by the school to be used in her capacity as a student journalist — suppressed material that would have been used in a student publication.
Robinson also found that former interim Superintendent Kenneth Southwick is not personally liable for the alleged constitutional violations. The judge dismissed those claims against Southwick while allowing other parts of the litigation against the district to continue.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas sued on behalf of students, accusing the district of suppressing student's political speech on campus "merely to avoid controversy." The school district countered in court documents its actions were justified because of concern that others might have wrongly assumed the students' voices reflected the district's position.
Bill could push more Mississippi government records online
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Some Mississippi lawmakers say they are pushing for greater transparency by government boards and agencies.
A bill that advanced Tuesday would require some city and county governments and state government boards and agencies to post minutes of their meetings online.
House Bill 1296 passed the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee. It will go to the full House for more debate.
Cities with fewer than 25,000 residents or counties with fewer than 50,000 residents would be exempt from the requirement to post minutes online. An exemption is also allowed for government entities that do not already have a website.
A similar bill died last year.
Trial begins in lawsuit over Idaho execution records
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An attorney for a University of Idaho professor seeking access to public records on drugs used during the state's most recent executions says the Department of Correction acted in bad faith and frivolously denied her client access to the documents.
Molly Kafka, an ACLU-Idaho attorney representing Aliza Cover, made the argument during opening statements in Ada County's 4th District Court Monday morning. Cover and the ACLU sued last year, asking a judge to force the state to turn over the documents so the public can assess the suitability of the drugs and how they were obtained.
IDOC attorney Jessica Kuehn told Judge Lynn Norton the state has already given Cover all the records that could be legally released under department rules, and that officials provided her more information that was tangentially related to her request in the interest of transparency. Kuehn said the records that were withheld weren't subject to release because the Board of Correction has the discretion under state law to exempt the release of records that could threaten security or prevent the department from carrying out executions.
"This is not the proper proceeding to challenge the wisdom of the Idaho Board of Correction," or the Legislature's rules that give the board the discretion to determine which execution records may be safely released, Kuehn said.
Kafka said the Board of Correction didn't actually make any determination that the need for secrecy outweighed the public's right to know, but rather said the state reflexively denied access to the documents.
She said she would present witnesses including Jeanne Woodford, who carried out four executions while she was the warden of San Quentin State Prison in California and is now an opponent of the death penalty. She said Woodford will testify that reducing the secrecy surrounding executions had no negative effects.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: State conducting criminal investigation of shale gas production
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro is pursuing criminal investigations of “environmental crimes” committed by the oil and gas industry in Washington County and possibly throughout the state.
In an Aug. 16, 2018, letter to attorneys in a civil case before the Washington County Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Shapiro and his office said they already had accepted a referral and “assumed jurisdiction over several criminal investigations involving environmental crimes in Washington County.”
By that time Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone already had discussed with and referred claims of environmental problems in shale gas development to the attorney general’s office.
Three Washington County residents told the Post-Gazette that they have spoken with AG investigators and were told they could be called to testify, with a Washington County woman saying that she already presented testimony before an investigative state grand jury in Pittsburgh.
Joe Grace, spokesman for Mr. Shapiro and the state Office of Attorney General, said, “We cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.”
Read more: https://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2019/01/28/pa-attorney-general-josh-shapiro-criminal-investigation-oil-gas-industry-washington-county-environmental-crimes/stories/201901210078
The State: Media groups press to make public records of secretive SC House GOP Caucus
A lawyer for a S.C. media group clashed Thursday with an attorney for the S.C. House Republican Caucus over whether that group can keep its financial records secret or must make them public under the state Freedom of Information Act.
State Circuit Court Judge Robert Hood said he would issue a decision by no later than Feb. 1.
The key question is whether the caucus — which has an office in the Blatt Building on the State House grounds — should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act since it gets the use of office and meeting space, paid for by taxpayers, for free. If the caucus comes under the Freedom of Information Act, both its records and meetings — now closed — would have to be open to the public.
The caucus is made up of 79 Republicans, almost two-thirds of the 124-member House. Its members hold private meetings, collect money from groups that lobby the Legislature and spend money on political campaigns.
However, for nearly 90 minutes, attorney Jay Bender, representing the media group including The State that sued for caucus records, and caucus attorney Jennifer Hollingsworth argued over how various court decisions, the Freedom of Information Act, state laws and House rules apply to the case.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 24, 2019
Palestine Herald-Press: Here's the two-inch headline, chief says: THERE IS NO COVER-UP
The Palestine Police Department investigated an alleged sexual assault by former PPD officer Javier Rojas, from Sept. 13 to Dec.14, when PPD brought the case to District Attorney Allyson Mitchell, Police Chief Andy Harvey said Wednesday.
Harvey also told the Herald-Press he was at Rojas' home, 209 Westwood Road, the day police learned of the allegations. He said he placed Rojas on administrative leave immediately.
Rojas had been on the force for only a month, or less.
PPD didn't publicize the incident because the investigation was ongoing – and still is, Harvey said.
Nationwide, police typically don't release information about a suspect during an investigation. So for PPD to not publicize the Rojas incident would not be unusual.
Still, several of Harvey's critics in Palestine have made rumblings about a cover-up
“Here's the two-inch headline,” Harvey said. “There is no coverup.”
A grand jury on the case will probably convene in late January or early February. Harvey said he believes Rojas is in Houston.
Assistant Chief Mark Harcrow said the alleged offense constituted a felony.
Harcrow also said the alleged victim was not a juvenile.
Earlier this week, city attorney Ron Stutes, responding to a Herald-Press Freedom of Information Act request, told the Attorney General's office the victim was a juvenile.
Capital Gazette: Audit finds deteriorating infrastructure at Naval Academy
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — An audit has found that the Naval Academy has decaying walls, plumbing issues and condemned offices and balconies.
The Capital reported Friday that it obtained the 2018 audit through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Naval Audit Service's report says the Annapolis, Maryland, college's infrastructure has degraded to the point of threatening its ability to train midshipmen.
The report outlined 13 unfunded maintenance or renovation projects across 15 facilities between March 2017 and April 26.
It says there are failing classrooms and athletic facilities, and the stormwater system has dumped unfiltered water into the Severn River.
The Navy didn't release the costs of all unfunded projects.
Academy spokesman Cmdr. David McKinney says in a statement that the school agrees with the audit's findings and looks forward to addressing them.
Arizona Daily Star: Police reports detail complaints of violence against women by UA football players
Newly released police reports paint a more complete picture of four sexual misconduct complaints and one harassment complaint against UA football players during a five-year span beginning in 2012.
Two of the 12 police reports obtained by the Arizona Daily Star through public records requests reference group sex that was captured on cellphone video and shown to other students. Two of the four accusers in the reports worked for the football program as support-staffers and left after the incidents occurred.
No charges were filed in any of the four sexual misconduct cases reported to police. However, one case led to the expulsion of two Wildcats football players and the suspension of a third. It’s unclear if any of the other incidents resulted in discipline by the university. The UA has refused to name the players involved or release the results of any internal investigations.
The reports come as the UA defends itself in two federal lawsuits regarding its failure to protect female students from former running back Orlando Bradford, who is serving five years in prison after admitting to choking two ex-girlfriends, one of whom worked in the athletic department. Former assistant track and field coach Craig Carter sits in a Florence prison after he admitted to assaulting a former Wildcats thrower. She is also suing the UA, claiming they failed to protect her from her former coach.
Arizona Daily Star: TUSD takes few steps to deal with dwindling enrollment
Tucson’s largest school district has continued to struggle with dwindling student enrollment, but in the last few months few concrete actions have been taken to remedy the issue despite convening a task force to study the longstanding decline.
This school year alone, around 2,200 students have left the Tucson Unified School District for another Arizona public, charter or private school, according to student withdrawal data obtained by the Arizona Daily Star through a public records request.
This accounts for less than half of the 5,100 students TUSD lost to in-state transfers last school year. The district lost around 6,100 students on average every year during the four years prior.
Now TUSD is hoping to “(stop) the bleed” of students leaving the district with a twofold approach, according to Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo. It requires recruiting new students, but more importantly it requires the district to take a more hands-on approach to student retention.
Gene Policinski: A Growing List: 2019 threats to First Amendment freedoms
First Amendment threats and defenses have, for much of the past 100 years, largely focused on protecting individual speech — the rights of any one of us to express ourselves without interference or punishment by the government.
Not to be too glib but, oh, those were the days.
This glee is due, in no small part, to the degree that individual speech and press rights triumphed in that era. But looking into this new year, that situation — and those victories — may be more nostalgia than norm. There is increasing danger to our core freedoms from what I’ll call “systemic” challenges, which often appear focused on other issues, but which carry a First Amendment impact, if not wallop.
The increasing public and commercial use of drones raise issues of noise, public safety and congestion in the airways — but also questions about what on-board cameras see and record that go far beyond earlier “peeping Tom” worries.
Consider a new network of drones constantly crisscrossing the skies over your hometown, constantly sending video of the passing scene to the insatiable maw of computer storage.
Combine that record with facial recognition software, vehicle tracking devices and surveillance cameras that can ID license plates from miles away and it’s but a small step to government discovery of who we meet, where and when, with resulting impact on the right of assembly or association.
We’ve known for some time there’s a running joke, in national security and spy circles in this country and elsewhere, that we’re now doing most of the surveillance work they used to do simply by living our lives on social media.
Add the abilities of artificial intelligence to collect, collate and match social media and online data about any one of us and the kind of “anonymous” speech that produced the Federalist Papers is ever more nonexistent.
Put another way, George Orwell’s draconian “Big Brother” presence was predicated on government installing a device in every home — and life — to observe each of us.
Bill to promote government transparency clears Idaho House
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's House has approved a bill intended to promote government transparency by exempting public records requests from a sales tax on top of copying and other fees.
The House passed the bill with a 67-0 vote on Monday.
Officials say the change clarifies existing law.
The bill now heads to the Senate.
Public records bill could hike costs, limit access in state
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Proposed legislation that would increase fees charged for public records in New Mexico and potentially limit access in certain cases is being called a "terrible anti-transparency" action by an open government advocacy group.
Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, told the Roswell Daily Record that the main purpose of his proposed legislation is to allow public entities a way to recover the costs associated with fulfilling records requests.
"Essentially this law would increase service charge fees, not to exceed the actual costs. But if there was an extensive use of technological resources or labor, then they could recover those costs," said Woods, who represents District 7 that covers parts of Curry, Quay and Union counties.
Existing state law allows public bodies to charge for the costs of copies or digitally transferring files, not for the costs of compiling the records.
Woods' bill also contains provisions that would restrict access in certain cases, according to the Roswell newspaper.
The bill also would allow public entities to request gubernatorial authority to deny requests by commercial interests if they considered the request a "misuse or an abuse" of public records and to obtain court injunctions against incarcerated individuals if public agencies can prove that inmates' public record requests are meant to harass or intimidate.
The Arkansas Times: Judge lets Arkansas law against Israeli boycotts stand
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday let stand an Arkansas law requiring state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel, ruling that such a boycott is not protected by the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge Brian Miller dismissed the lawsuit the Arkansas Times had filed challenging the 2017 law. The newspaper had asked the judge to block the law, which requires contractors with the state to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don't sign the pledge.
The Times' lawsuit said the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College refused to contract for advertising with the newspaper unless the Arkansas Times signed the pledge. The paper isn't engaged in a boycott against Israel.
Miller wrote that refusing to purchase items isn't protected speech. He noted that the Times wouldn't be barred from other protected forms of speech, including writing or picketing against Israel policies.
"It may even call upon others to boycott Israel, write in support of such boycotts, and engage in picketing and pamphleteering to that effect. This does not mean, however, that its decision to refuse to deal, or to refrain from purchasing certain goods, is protected by the First Amendment," Miller wrote.
The Baltimore Sun: Reporters shown videos of teen's fatal encounter with police
GREENSBORO, Md. (AP) — News reporters have viewed body camera footage of a black teenager's fatal encounter with a Maryland police officer, but officials aren't publicly releasing copies of the footage while the teen's death remains under investigation.
The Baltimore Sun reports that the video shown to reporters on Wednesday captures Anton Black's mother screaming her 19-year-old son's name as she sees officers pinning him down outside her home.
Police say Black died in custody in September after a Greensboro officer responded to a report of him dragging a 12-year-old boy down a street. They say Black fled before police tried to shock him with a stun gun and place him in restraints.
On Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan said he has been pushing state police and the medical examiner to finish investigating.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 17, 2019
The News & Observer: NC election violations alleged in 2016 were aired with Justice Department official
State findings of North Carolina election manipulation in 2016 were elevated as far as a top Justice Department official in Washington, D.C., but so far no charges have been filed by prosecutors at any level.
The head of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section met with staff from the North Carolina state board of elections about allegedly improper election activities in Bladen County that occurred during the 2016 elections, according to emails obtained by The News & Observer.
AnnaLou Tirol, the acting chief of the Public Integrity Section, was scheduled to meet with Josh Lawson, the state board’s general counsel, and Kim Strach, the board’s executive director, on Jan. 31, 2018. The meeting in Raleigh was set up by Brian S. Meyers, an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The meeting took place and there has been no email correspondence between the board and the Public Integrity Section since a follow-up email a day after the meeting, according to Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the state board.
Times-Picayune: ’They fell asleep’: S&WB probe finds why 2 supervisors didn’t respond, leading to boil advisory
Two Sewerage & Water Board supervisors fell asleep on the job amid a drop in water pressure that led to a precautionary boil advisory on the east bank of New Orleans in mid-November, the utility’s executive director, Ghassan Korban, disclosed Thursday (Jan. 10). The two employees, who had overnight shifts, no longer work for the utility, he said.
The two supervisors were tasked with the same function at the utility’s Carrollton water-pumping plant on the morning of Nov. 17, 2018, when they fell asleep, Korban said. The Sewerage & Water Board’s power and water-pumping equipment was already in a fragile state at the time, made vulnerable by an Entergy line being knocked down by a vehicle and water pumps tripping out during power transfers to overcome the loss of the downed line.
“They were asleep,” Korban said in a meeting Thursday with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune’s editorial board.
“It was very difficult to predict that two people were going to just act the same way and be 100 percent irresponsible ... by falling asleep,” Korban added. “By the time that was recognized ... that cost us really a handful of minutes that was the difference.”
Sun News of Myrtle Beach: County estimates $75,000 for records; cities offer for free
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — One coastal South Carolina government wanted to charge a newspaper $75,000 for a public records request that other governments filled for free.
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach used a Freedom of Information Act request to ask for all records on payments to settle lawsuits or threats to sue over the past five years.
Horry County told the newspaper it estimated a $75,000 cost to research and produce the records and said it would need an $18,875 deposit before it could even begin to process the request.
The cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach emailed the newspaper the records for free. The city of Conway charged $42.40 because it took a staffer an hour to compile the request and much smaller Surfside Beach charged $21.60, the newspaper reported.
Horry County did not provide a breakdown of how it came up with the $75,000 estimate. State law allows governments to charge for staff time at the salary rate of the lowest paid employee that could fill the request and charge for copies at a rate similar to a private copy business.
The county could be inflating its cost several ways, including charging for printing records it could transmit electronically, said South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers, who said the law requires governments to answer public records requests as cheaply as possible.
"The public should have access to information at the lowest possible cost, and it's hard to imagine this is the lowest possible cost," Rogers said.
The newspaper filed another public records request for emails about its first request and discovered messages from several department heads estimating how much it would cost to get the records. Their separate estimates added up to less than $10,000. County officials refused to explain the difference.
The newspaper also filed a third public records request to see if the county made large estimates for requests from other people. The county told them that would cost more than $10,000 to fulfill.
Capital News Service: Legislators introduce journalist protections
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Two delegates, both former journalists, introduced legislation Monday to protect student journalists from censorship and shield reporters from having to disclose confidential sources.
Dels. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, and Danica Roem, D-Prince William, urged the General Assembly to pass such legislation.
"Journalism matters. Facts matter," Roem said. "We have to get this right."
Sponsored by Roem, House Bill 2250 — introduced for the second year in a row — would protect members of the press from being forced by courts to reveal the identity of anonymous sources.
"The whole point of the shield law is to protect reporters from being jailed for protecting confidential sources," said Roem, a former reporter with The Prince William Times.
Read more: https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/general-assembly/virginia-legislators-want-to-stop-schools-from-censoring-student-media/article_3b95971b-8572-545d-87e8-357db8105489.html
Missouri lawmakers try to limit public access to records
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri House members are trying to exempt themselves from part of a voter-approved requirement that says their work emails are public records.
Republican House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo's proposed change to the House's internal rules would make some of representatives' records confidential, including any that contain "caucus strategy." The proposal, which is expected to come up for debate Tuesday, would also exempt emails with constituents and other related constituent records.
Vescovo was not immediately available to comment to The Associated Press about the proposal , but House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said Democrats would try to amend the plan. She noted that statewide elected officials have been subject to Missouri's Sunshine Law for years — and House Democrats voluntarily complied.
The suggested changes come just months after Missouri voters in November overwhelmingly approved Constitutional Amendment 1 . Known as "Clean Missouri" by its supporters, the measure added lawmakers to a long list of public officials who were already subject to the state open-records law, which grants the public access to government documents.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 10, 2019
Miami Herald: Florida health officials delayed notifying residents about tainted water, emails show
Linda Lawson thought little of drinking the water from the decades-old well in her backyard, less than half a mile down the road from the Florida State Fire College in Ocala. That changed when her daughter-in-law answered to state workers knocking on her door one afternoon. They came to test the water, a worker said.
She only began to worry when Mark Lander, the head of the Marion County Department of Health, came by at 8:30 one evening in early November with word that she shouldn’t drink from the well anymore. The unlit dirt path to her Central Florida home almost never received visitors, especially at night, and her husband Tim even pulled out his gun with concern that Lander might be an escaped inmate from a nearby prison.
Lander, who declined to comment for this story, delivered a letter that night informing Lawson’s family that chemical levels in their well water were higher than deemed safe. He gave them a couple of cases of water and told them to drink only bottled for the foreseeable future before he disappeared back into the night.
In August, the Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that flame retardants containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) had been used at the Fire College in the past. In early September, the college was told to only drink bottled water.
Lawson’s home was one of three well sites — a Marion County fire station and Texas-based mining company Lhoist North America were the others — where preliminary tests indicated the water had elevated levels of the PFOS and PFOA chemicals, which early studies have suggested can be carcinogens. Other impacts in humans include high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, adverse reproductive and developmental effects and some types of cancer.
It took about four months for state health officials to notify Lawson and others in the community about potentially elevated levels of the chemicals, emails obtained by the Herald/Times show. In September state health officials began discussing means of informing the Fire College, but it wasn’t until late October that they discussed notifying the rest of the nearby community. While state health officials debated for months how to word messages to those affected and put off informational open houses because of Hurricane Michael, neighbors bickered with local health officials asking when their water would be tested. Some preemptively began buying cases of water each week, fearing their own wells might be contaminated.
The Bismarck Tribune: Mandan man's information requests reach 'prolific' levels
Paul Jordan says he’s an advocate for the truth and good government.
Mandan and North Dakota officials say he’s a "prolific and persistent requester" who inundates local government with requests for open records and attorney general opinions.
"It's because every time I turn over a rock, I find something else and it leads me to two more rocks," Jordan said. "I turn over those rocks, and there they are."
Jordan, a retired archaeologist and former military medic, moved to Mandan in 2013. He said he saw neighborhood issues that led him to begin requesting public records that provided him with what he says has been incorrect, delayed or withheld information.
From 2014 to 2017, Jordan submitted more than 300 open records requests to the city of Mandan, according to AG opinions. Mandan city administrator Jim Neubauer said he's since stopped keeping track.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Jan. 3, 2019
ACLU, newspaper sue over police department audit
SALEM, N.H. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire and the newspaper The Union Leader have filed a joint lawsuit against the town of Salem seeking an unredacted police department audit.
New Hampshire Public Radio reports the ACLU says in its lawsuit that releasing the full report will help restore trust in police and the town.
The audit released Nov. 23 listed several concerns about the police department's culture, including its failure to investigate citizen complaints and managers who ignore the town's authority.
Salem says it is implementing the report's recommendations and searching for a new police chief. Police Chief Paul Donovan resigned in early December.
Deputy Police Chief Robert Morin previously said "significant portions" of the audit were "without merit and contain speculation, opinion and hearsay."
FHCHC violates open meeting laws
The Lyon County Attorney’s Office ruled in favor of The Emporia Gazette on July 11 in its claim that the Flint Hills Community Health Center violated Kansas open meeting laws by barring a reporter from attending its May meeting.
“It is the opinion of the Lyon County Attorney’s Office that the Flint Hills Community Health Center is subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act, K.S.A. 75-4317 et seq., based on the foregoing analysis,” read the ruling by Lyon County Attorney Marc Goodman. “Moreover, by closing the meetings to the public and by refusing admittance of an Emporia Gazette reporter to the May 22, 2018, meeting, the Flint Hills Community Health Center was in direct violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, K.S.S 75-4320.
“Therefore, it is in the opinion of the Lyon County Attorney’s Office that the Flint Hills Community Health Center shall re-open its meetings to the public in order to avoid any further violations of the Open Meetings Act.”
FHCHC complied with Goodman’s ruling and its meetings have been open to the media and the public since July. The board has since voted to close the organization’s Madison clinic, but has expressed optimism heading into the new year citing the hiring of several new medical personnel — including Medical Director Dr. James Fast.
Beshear: CCPL board violated open meeting laws
MURRAY – Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear ruled the Calloway County Public Library Board of Trustees violated open meeting laws by how it described agenda items for a special-called session.
Beshear said the board violated KRS 61.823(3) when it used the acronym “Strategic Plan/S.W.O.T.” to describe an agenda item at a special-called meeting in October.
“… thereby failing to give fair notice of the particular topics to be discussed or acted upon during the special meeting,” Beshear’s opinion wrote, as reported by the Lexington Herald Leader.
That meeting took place Oct. 15; the Ledger & Times was not notified ahead of that special-called meeting, as required by Kentucky Revised Statutes.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 27, 2018
Honolulu Civil Beat: Hawaii Supreme Court Overturns 30 Years Of Government Secrecy
The Hawaii Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that overturns 30 years of successful attempts at government secrecy.
For decades, public agencies in Hawaii have withheld countless records from public view by saying they were subject to the “deliberative process privilege,” a vague term of art that legal experts say was often overused and abused.
A legal challenge from Civil Beat combined with the state high court’s ruling seems to unravel all that, saying that such a privilege never existed in state law.
“I’ve always said that I could retire if we won this case,” Civil Beat’s attorney Brian Black said with a chuckle. “This is a huge win for the public.”
The case stems from a public records request Civil Beat filed in 2015 to get access to budget documents used to craft Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spending plan for fiscal year 2016.
The Caledonian-Record: District considers speech policy for student journalists
BARTON, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont school district is considering a policy that would protect free speech for student journalists.
The Caledonian-Record reports the Lake Region Union High School board approved a measure last week. Other boards must adopt the rule before it becomes policy for the Orleans Central Supervisory Union. OCSU Superintendent Bev Davis says Vermont law requires the policy.
Under the policy, school-sponsored media won't be censured "because it involves political or controversial subject matter or is critical of the school." Libelous or obscene content won't be protected.
Policy changes follow a September news story by students at Burlington High School about a guidance counselor who had been charged with misconduct. Administrators tried to block students from publishing the story.
Billings Gazette: Judge orders Billings pay newspaper, station in records case
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A judge has ordered a Montana city to pay a newspaper and TV station attorneys' fees and court costs related to a lawsuit.
The Billings Gazette and KTVQ sued the city of Billings to obtain the names of three police officers disciplined for having sex with a clerk while on duty or on city property.
Yellowstone County District Court Judge Donald Harris ruled Thursday the city knowingly assisted and participated as the officers tried to thwart the public's right to know.
The Billings Gazette reports the city's police chief and attorney agreed in April to release the names but didn't object when the officers, Paul LaMantia, Matthew Edwards and Clint Anglin, sought to bar the release.
City Manager Chris Kukulski said he hadn't seen the ruling and declined to comment.
Ledger & Times: CCPL board responds to open records requests
MURRAY – The Calloway County Public Library Board of Trustees has hired an attorney to help it sort through correspondence required to comply with a pair of open records requests.
In a special-called session held Thursday morning, board chair Audrey Neal said the library had brought on Corey Gamm of Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing, PLLC, a Covington-based firm. According to its website, it has represented clients in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, including the library in the past.
Neal said the hired legal help will help sort out documentation requested from engineering firm Bacon Farmer Workman and WKMS News. While each group’s request differed in content, requested documentation included correspondence between trustees and library employees, Friends of the Calloway County Public Library members, Mark Fredrick of 1st Ky Realty, Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes, former Calloway County Judge-Executive Larry Elkins and others. WKMS’ original request did not include all the trustees, though that was later updated.
The Ledger & Times plans to file its own open records request.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 20, 2018
The Toledo Blade: Emails to Ohio State president illustrate fractured fan base
COLUMBUS — For 22 days in August, Ohio State was under siege — the university, the athletic department, and the football coach.
Urban Meyer’s leave of absence and the subsequent three-week investigation into his actions regarding disgraced wide receivers coach Zach Smith’s domestic abuse allegations rocked OSU, pitting fans, alumni, and university employees against one another.
The Blade accessed 167 pages of emails addressed to Ohio State president Michael Drake through an Ohio open records request that was submitted in August and fulfilled last week. The emails, sent Aug. 22 and 23 in the wake of Mr. Meyer’s three-game suspension, paint a conflicting picture among the university community. They were unanimous in their derision, but on opposing sides, with some calling Mr. Meyer’s punishment too lenient while others excoriated Mr. Drake for being too harsh.
In the emails reviewed by The Blade, a theme emerged: division. Fissures in Buckeye Nation mirror the country’s red state vs. blue state divide. Good manners and decorum need not be displayed.
Chicago Tribune: Financial secrecy: 10 of 16 top Chicago mayoral candidates refuse to release full tax returns
Over four years, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown reported $72,000 in income from a side business as a motivational and religious speaker. Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot made nearly $1 million last year as a law firm partner and gave $52,000 to charity. And former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas recorded no taxable income in the year before Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed him to an administrative post at Chicago State University.
Those are just a few facts found in the hundreds of pages of full tax returns released to the Chicago Tribune by six candidates running for mayor in the Feb. 26 election. Another 10 candidates refused to release their complete tax returns, with just one releasing any financial records at all.
Disclosing tax returns is a rite of transparency for many candidates who have run for major elected office, an act of disclosure that not only tells the public how much the political hopefuls earn in income but where their financial interests reside, how they have made their money and what potential conflicts of interest could arise if they are elected.
For the bulk of Chicago’s top contenders for mayor, however, that information remains secret.
Read more: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-met-chicago-mayor-candidates-tax-returns-20181207-story.html
Writer seeks records of probe into Pentagon Papers leak
BOSTON (AP) — A Harvard University professor and writer for The New Yorker is asking a court to order the release of documents related to two grand juries that sat in Boston nearly 50 years ago to investigate the leak of the Pentagon Papers.
Jill Lepore said in documents filed in federal court on Monday that the long-secret records will shed light on the probe into the publication of the top-secret study that revealed the U.S. government misled the public about the Vietnam War. While much is known about the Pentagon Papers, a great deal about the Boston grand juries that convened in 1971 remains a mystery, she says.
"Why and when was the investigation opened? Why was it closed? To what lengths did the government go in conducting the investigation? Did those lengths include illegal wiretapping, as critics alleged at the time?" Lepore asks in the filings. "Unsealing the records is the only way to know the answers to these questions," she said.
The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School filed the case on behalf of Lepore, who is seeking witness testimony, FBI reports and other documents related to the 1971 grand jury investigation. Lepore describes the investigation as a "landmark in the history of the federal government's willingness to investigate and prosecute dissidents, scholars, journalists, and anyone else suspected of involvement with the release and publication of classified government material."
Some details about the grand juries were revealed in newspaper accounts at the time, including the names of people who were subpoenaed to testify. They included linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, who received a copy of the Pentagon Papers from leaker Daniel Ellsberg, a friend of his. The goal of the second grand jury appears to have been to investigate Neil Sheehan, The New York Times reporter who first wrote about the documents, Lepore says.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 13, 2018
Hartford Courant: Courant exclusive: More than 1,000 pages of documents reveal Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's dark descent into depravity
he extent of Adam Lanza’s abject loneliness, the intensity of his scorn for the world, his interest in pedophilia, his astounding list of daily grievances, the reach of his obsession with mass murder — some of the granular details of the Sandy Hook shooter’s last years have been elusive.
More than 1,000 pages of documents obtained by the Hartford Courant from the Connecticut State Police, including hundreds of pages of Lanza’s own writings and a spreadsheet detailing the gruesome work of 400 perpetrators of mass violence, bring into sharper focus the dark world view of a 20-year-old who shot his mother four times as she slept and then killed 20 first-graders and six educators before killing himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's spreadsheet detailing centuries of mass violence served as a road map to murder
Diagnosed as a child with a sensory disorder and delays in speech, he would exhibit a quick mind for science, computers, math, and language. The few acquaintances he had as a teenager came from video-game arcades and online gaming chatrooms. The newly released writings express a wide range of emotions and rigid doctrine, from a crippling aversion to the dropped towel, food mixing on his plate and the feel of a metal door handle, to a deep disdain for relationships, an intolerance of his peers, a chilling contempt for anyone carrying a few extra pounds, and a conviction that certain aspects of living are worse than death.
At the same time, he also predicted that he would make a good father, because he would treat children as independent little people who just didn’t know a lot yet. In a memo-style letter to his mother, Nancy, who lived in the same house, he encouraged her not to be dejected about her life.
These documents, which had been kept from the public until now, were part of the mass of writings, records, and computer files seized by detectives from the Lanzas’ home after the murders. The Courant mounted a five-year quest to obtain the unreleased documents, eventually winning an appeal before the state Supreme Court.
Kansas City Star: KCK police chief had ‘handshake’ deal to live in county-owned house for little rent
For almost a year, Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Terry Zeigler has lived in a house owned by Wyandotte County in what is arguably the most beautiful part of the area.
But some say the arrangement is an ugly one for taxpayers — one that lacks transparency and misuses public property.
County residents, open government advocates and a Unified Government commissioner point to the fact that no written lease was in place for almost eight months after Zeigler moved into the house.
Zeigler pays little or no rent on a monthly basis because of credits granted for expenses to make improvements on the house.
Officials put the lease in writing after a citizen inquired about it.
That such a deal was made out of public view raised red flags for Max Kautsch, a Lawrence-based attorney who is a board member at the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government.
“I think the main danger lies in the fact that it’s unclear how taxpayer money is being spent,” Kautsch said. “If there’s no way to track officially who is spending what and how income is coming in, then the taxpayers are at a severe disadvantage.”
Arkansas newspaper sues over no-boycott pledge for vendors
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas newspaper asked a federal judge Tuesday to strike down a state law that requires government contractors to pledge to not boycott Israel or reduce their fees by 20 percent.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas challenged the law on behalf of the Arkansas Times LP, which says the University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College refused to contract for advertising with the newspaper unless the Arkansas Times signed the pledge. According to the lawsuit, Arkansas Times had previously contracted for years with the technical college. The paper is not engaged in any boycott against Israel, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution and imposes an “ideological litmus test” on contractors.
“As journalists, we are fervent believers that the First Amendment’s speech protections are essential to a free and just society - and would never sign a contract that’s conditioned on the unconstitutional suppression of free speech,” Alan Leveritt, publisher and CEO of Arkansas Times, said in a statement. “Regardless of what people may think about this particular boycott, it is not the government’s place to decide what causes Arkansans can or cannot support.”
AP: State should disclose inmate-death records: Access counselor
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s corrections agency has refused to release public records about a prison altercation that led to the homicide of a 65-year-old inmate and forced the paid suspension of at least four correctional officers.
The state’s public access counselor in the Democratic attorney general’s office ruled last month that Illinois Department of Corrections officials should release most of the documents regarding the May 17 incident at Western Illinois Correctional Center. The FBI is investigating. Neither FBI nor IDOC officials will comment.
IDOC denied a July Freedom of Information Act request from The Associated Press for records related to the “altercation with prison staff” that proved fatal to Larry Earvin, arguing they are exempt under FOIA exceptions to disclosure that would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation. But Assistant Attorney General Edie Steinberg ruled Corrections did not show how transparency would interfere.
“Because IDOC did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that the withheld records are exempt from disclosure under (FOIA), this office concludes that IDOC improperly withheld those records in their entireties,” Steinberg wrote in the Nov. 14 opinion directing the agency to produce the records, which is nonbinding.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Dec. 6, 2018
U of North Alabama Censured Over Free Press Issues
The College Media Association has censured the University of North Alabama after administrators there allegedly fired the adviser of the student newspaper over a negative story it published.
The Flor-Ala newspaper ran a story in September about being denied personnel records of two employees, one of whom has resigned from the university. David Shields, former vice president of student affairs, left in July, and Gregory Gaston, a professor, is not allowed on the campus grounds.
A week after the story published, administrators met with student journalists and the newspaper's adviser, Scott Morris, according to the association. Morris and the students characterized Provost Ross Alexander as “angry” and “frustrated.”
Later that month, Morris was told the provost would be eliminating his job and replacing it with a tenure-track faculty position that required a doctorate, which would result in Morris, a longtime journalist without the credential, being fired.
The association said that administrators could not provide any proof that they were considering changing Morris’s position prior to the newspaper publishing its report. The university also sent out a reminder to professors and other staffers of the institution's rules, which suggest that officials should not speak to the media unless an administrator vets the inquiry beforehand.
Canadian court says reporter must give police material
OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — The Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday a Vice Media reporter must give Canada's national police force material he gathered for stories about an accused terrorist in a case that pitted press freedoms against the investigative powers of police.
The high court said in a 9-0 decision Friday the state's interest in prosecuting crimes outweighed the media's right to privacy in gathering the news.
Vice Media said the ruling made it a "dark day for press freedom."
Organizations representing Canadian journalists also decried the decision as setback that imperils their work.
In 2014, reporter Ben Makuch wrote three articles about the involvement of Farah Mohamed Shirdon, formerly of Calgary, with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Shirdon had left Canada for Turkey in March of that year. A month later, he appeared in an ISIL propaganda video that turned up on the internet. He tore up his Canadian passport, threw it into a fire and said, "With help from Allah, we are coming to slaughter you."
Their exchanges in text-messaging service were crucial to the articles.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2015 directed Vice Media and Makuch to provide documents and data relating to communications with Shirdon.
Makuch tweeted: "I am profoundly disappointed in today's ruling, not just as an appellant in this case or a reporter, but as a citizen of Canada."
The Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression also called the ruling deeply disappointing.
"It creates a chill for anyone who wants to speak truth to power or expose government wrongdoing," said CAJ president and CJFE board member Karyn Pugliese. "The country's highest court erred significantly in today's decision."
Michigan businesses are discharging contaminants into water
DETROIT (AP) — Michigan businesses are discharging large amounts of chemical contaminants into the state's waterways every day, according to a newspaper investigation.
State officials began testing 93 treatment plants in February through an Industrial Pretreatment Program to examine discharge being sent by commercial customers.
MLive.com obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act that show that 16 of the plants received written orders over the past year to reduce industrial sources of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, found in their discharges.
Exposure to PFAS has been linked in epidemiological studies to some cancers, thyroid disorders, low birth weights, elevated cholesterol and other chronic diseases.
At least 130 businesses have been considered as potential sources of PFAS. Many of the businesses releasing chemicals are plating companies that make chrome parts for the auto industry.
"We haven't used it in almost six years," Lacks Enterprises CEO Nick Hrynyk said of the chemicals. "But it's still there because it just clings."
A High School Newspaper Was Suspended For Publishing An Investigation Into Football Players’ Transfers
An Arkansas school district suspended its high school newspaper and threatened to fire the teacher who advises it after student journalists wrote a story criticizing the transfer of five football players to a rival high school.
“They are like, ‘Well, you raised an uproar, we’re going to try and silence you,’” Halle Roberts, 17, the editor-in-chief of the Har-Ber Herald, told BuzzFeed News.
Friday nights mean football in Springdale, a small city in the northwest of the state. So when five varsity players transferred from Har-Ber High School to their archrivals at Springdale High School in the middle of the school year in late 2017 — both schools are under the Springdale Public Schools district — student journalists at the Herald decided to investigate.
The Herald published its monthslong investigation — which questions the legitimacy of the school district’s approval of the transfers — on Oct. 30.
Arkansas school district allows paper to post banned article
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas school district that ordered a student newspaper to take down an investigative report now says the article can be re-published on its website.
A spokesman for the Springdale School District said Tuesday the Har-ber Herald could republish its months-long investigation into the transfer of six football players to a rival high school. The article alleged the students transferred for athletic, not academic reasons, which would violate district policy. Springdale had ordered the article be taken off the paper's website in November and had effectively suspended the newspaper's operations.
By late Tuesday, the article had been re-posted on various websites, including by professional journalists on social media. The Student Press Law Center also posted the article , and an accompanying editorial by the newspaper's staff, to its website.
The article was first published on Oct. 30, said the paper's editor-in-chief Halle Roberts, but students had been investigating the transfers for nearly a year. Three days after its publication, Springdale instructed the Herald to remove the article from its website.
Police: 23 complaints about Alpha Sigma Phi frat house noise
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Police records show a University of Michigan fraternity received two noise citations even though 23 calls were made over the past year about partying at its off-campus house.
The Ann Arbor News reported Wednesday from a Freedom of Information Act request that police also investigated whether a "40-yard dash" was run over the backs of some members.
Alpha Sigma Phi was removed last month from the school and student-run Interfraternity Council for at least five years following allegations of violent hazing and forced alcohol consumption.
The newspaper reports that officers rarely observed loud partying at the house and that a city attorney believed a radio scanner was used to monitor police dispatches.
The fraternity's headquarters says members violating policies were suspended or expelled and removed from the frat house.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 23-Dec. 6, 2018
Missouri changes execution media policy after lawsuit
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri will now leave it up to news organizations to pick which reporters witness executions after a journalist was denied access and sued the state.
Changes to the state's execution witness policy are part of a settlement that led U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey to dismiss the lawsuit Tuesday.
Previously, the Missouri Department of Corrections director chose which reporters were denied or granted access to executions. BuzzFeed News reporter Chris McDaniel sued in 2016 after he applied to serve as an execution witness in 2014 but never heard back.
The former St. Louis Radio reporter, who has written several articles critical of Missouri's execution practices, was not approved to witness any of the 17 executions held since he applied, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. The organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of McDaniel.
Legal Director Tony Rothert in a Tuesday statement said the government should not be able to decide which reporters can attend executions based on officials' feelings about their coverage.
"A free press is vital to ensuring that the government remains accountable to the people," Rothert said. "Allowing the government to pick and choose which reporters have access to government functions is a vital threat to fair and unbiased reporting."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann declined to comment Tuesday.
The new policy allows The Associated Press, Missouri Broadcasters Association, Missouri Press Association and another media outlet to select reporters to watch executions. That takes away the director's power to unilaterally deny access to certain reporters.
Tennessee gov-elect promises to overhaul public records law
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's newly elected governor says he wants to do a complete overhaul of the state's public records and open meeting laws as part of his commitment to making government more transparent.
Republican Bill Lee first revealed the promise on his transition website last week where he outlined his top priorities as governor, which also includes expanding vocational educational training and helping create more jobs for Tennesseans.
According to Lee's transition spokeswoman Laine Arnold, the Republican wants to reduce the number of public records exemptions and address fees and delays in fulfilling public records requests.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee of Comptroller's office found that the state currently has more than 500 open records exemptions — or about six times as many as there were three decades ago.
Free speech threat seen in prosecuting WikiLeaks' Assange
In a divided Washington, few causes have as much bipartisan support as prosecuting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Many Democrats seethed when the radical transparency activist humiliated Hillary Clinton by publishing the content of her campaign chairman's inbox. Most Republicans haven't forgiven Assange for his publication of U.S. military and intelligence secrets. Much of the American media establishment holds him in contempt as well.
But academics, civil rights lawyers and journalism groups worry that an attempt to put Assange behind bars could damage constitutional free speech protections, with repercussions for newsrooms covering national security across the United States.
"This isn't about Julian Assange, this is about the First Amendment and press freedom," said Elizabeth Goitein, who co-directs the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center in New York. "You can't support First Amendment freedoms and still support the government chipping away at those freedoms of people you don't like."
U.S. officials clearly have been itching to get their hands on the 47-year-old ex-hacker for some time; he has been a thorn in Washington's side for almost a decade. And Assange's longtime claim that prosecutors secretly were preparing charges against was vindicated late Thursday when his name accidentally surfaced in an apparently unrelated legal filing.
A person familiar with the situation confirmed that charges against Assange have in fact been filed under seal. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the charges have not been publicly announced.
Prison inmate death after run-in with staff ruled homicide
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The death of an inmate following an "altercation with correctional staff" at Western Illinois Correctional Center in May has been ruled a homicide, according to an autopsy report provided to The Associated Press under a Freedom of Information request.
Larry Earvin died from blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen, the death certificate from Clinton County in southern Illinois said. The 65-year-old Earvin sustained 15 rib fractures and two dozen or more abrasions, hemorrhages and lacerations. Surgery to remove a portion of his bowel appears to have followed the injury, the report says.
The FBI is investigating the May 17 incident at the prison in Mount Sterling, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. Illinois Department of Corrections officials declined to disclose details of the altercation.
At least four Western Illinois employees were placed on administrative leave with pay on May 22, according to documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act. Suspended for allegedly violating conduct standards were correctional Sgt. Willie Hedden, 40, of Mount Sterling; correctional Lts. Benjamin Burnett, 33, of Winchester, and Blake Haubrich, 30, of Quincy and correctional officer Alex Banta, 27, of Quincy.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 15, 2018
White House pulls CNN reporter Jim Acosta's pass after contentious news conference
(CNN Business)In a stunning break with protocol, the White House said Wednesday night that it's suspending the press pass of CNN's Jim Acosta "until further notice."
The move came just hours after Acosta, CNN's chief White House correspondent, drew the ire of President Donald Trump and his allies by asking multiple questions at a post-midterms news conference. Trump insulted Acosta and called him a "terrible" person.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced in a statement that Acosta would be stripped of what's known as a "hard pass," which gives him access to the White House grounds.
CNN said in a statement that Acosta has the network's full support.
The revocation of his pass "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference," the statement said. "In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support."
Words and walkouts aren’t enough. CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta’s press pass.
CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta is a smart, tough reporter. He can also be a grandstander who seems to thrive on conflict with President Trump and doesn’t always know when to stop his aggressive questioning.
But whether you like Acosta’s style, it’s clear the White House crossed a bright line Wednesday when it took away Acosta’s “hard pass,” which allows him the access he needs to cover the White House.
That action amounts to punishing a member of the press for doing his job of informing the public — and then creating a false pretext to justify that relatiation.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/words-and-walkouts-arent-enough-cnn-should-sue-trump-over-revoking-acostas-press-pass/2018/11/08/c207f4e6-e35a-11e8-b759-3d88a5ce9e19_story.html
Statement from ASNE, APME and ONA on the revocation of Jim Acosta's White House press pass
On Wednesday afternoon, the president of the United States engaged in another unprovoked verbal attack on the news media during a post-election press conference. Wednesday night, the White House took the incredible step of revoking a reporter's credentials for doing his job. The American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Online News Association condemn the president's rhetoric and demand the immediate reinstatement of CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass.
Our organizations have - jointly and separately - raised concerns about the president's attempts to delegitimize the press in the past, noting that his statements have no basis in fact, serve to stoke anger and fear in the public, and embolden some to threaten or harass news professionals. As disturbing, outrageous and potentially dangerous as the president's statements were, they pale in comparison to the decision of the White House to suspend Acosta's press pass "until further notice" and deny him access to the White House grounds for doing nothing more than asking pointed questions of the president.
A free and independent press is currently one of the primary checks on this president. Calling us names does not dampen our enthusiasm to do our jobs. Calling us the enemy of the people does not affect our determination to serve our communities and the citizens of this country. Barring access to one reporter will not stop - or even soften - our questioning. Journalists work to report the news accurately and fairly, and that means asking hard questions of every elected official, including the president of the United States of America.
Expert: Acosta video distributed by White House was doctored
NEW YORK (AP) — A video distributed by the Trump administration to support its argument for banning CNN reporter Jim Acosta from the White House appears to have been doctored to make Acosta look more aggressive than he was during an exchange with a White House intern, an independent expert said Thursday.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted the video, which shows Acosta asking President Donald Trump a question on Wednesday as the intern tries to take his microphone away. But a frame-by-frame comparison with an Associated Press video of the same incident shows that the one tweeted by Sanders appears to have been altered to speed up Acosta’s arm movement as he touches the intern’s arm, according to Abba Shapiro, an independent video producer who examined the footage at AP’s request.
Earlier, Shapiro noticed that frames in the tweeted video were frozen to slow down the action, allowing it to run the same length as the AP one.
The tweeted video also does not have any audio, which Shapiro said would make it easier to alter. It’s also unlikely the differences could be explained by technical glitches or by video compression — a reduction in a video’s size to enable it to play more smoothly on some sites — because the slowing of the video and the acceleration that followed are “too precise to be an accident,” said Shapiro, who trains instructors to use video editing software.
CNN sues Trump to get Jim Acosta's press pass restored
CNN on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and top administration officials demanding that correspondent Jim Acosta's access to the White House be restored, a dramatic turn in the president's years-long battle with the press that sets up a court fight over the First Amendment.
"While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone," CNN said in announcing the lawsuit, which asks for a restraining order requiring that Acosta's security credentials be returned. "If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."
The White House revoked Acosta's credentials, known as a "hard pass," several hours after a testy exchange with the president during a news conference last week. Trump told Acosta "CNN should be ashamed" for employing him during the back-and-forth, which included a White House staffer attempting to take the microphone out of Acosta's hand.
CNN and Jim Acosta lawsuit is about free speech, free press and due process
CNN's lawsuit against President Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, Chief of Staff John Kelly and other officials focuses on two main issues: the right to free speech and free press, and the right to due process.
In filings Tuesday, CNN says the White House revoked correspondent Jim Acosta's "hard pass" press credentials to the White House based on his reporting. Trump frequently calls CNN "fake news" and has said CNN journalists are “just dishonest, terrible people.”
Two iconic Supreme Court cases will come into play here, but it's a lesser-known lower court decision that could most help CNN's cause.
The CNN lawsuit relies on cornerstone U.S. Supreme Court decision N.Y. Times v. Sullivan (1964), which promotes the widest protection to political speech, calling it a "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
White House says it has 'broad discretion' on press access
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's administration contends it has "broad discretion" to regulate press access to the White House as it fends off a legal challenge from CNN and other outlets over the revocation of journalist Jim Acosta's "hard pass."
In a legal filing ahead of a Wednesday hearing on CNN's request for a temporary restraining order to restore Acosta's access, the government argues it "was lawful" to punish Acosta for his behavior during a contentious Trump press conference last week.
It rejects the idea that Acosta was "otherwise eligible" for White House access, saying: "The President and his designees in the White House Press Office have exercised their discretion not to engage with him and, by extension, to no longer grant him on-demand access to the White House complex so that he can attempt to interact with the President or White House officials."
Trump himself, in an interview published Wednesday, was uncertain how the court fight would end, saying, "We'll see how the court rules. Is it freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won't sit down?"
Trump told The Daily Caller that "guys like Acosta" were "bad for the country. ... He's just an average guy who's a grandstander who's got the guts to stand up and shout."
The White House's explanations for why it seized Acosta's "hard pass," which grants reporters as-needed access to the 18-acre complex, have shifted over the last week. Acosta has repeatedly clashed with Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in briefings over the last two years.
The Associated Press joined with a group of 12 other news organizations planning to file an amicus brief in the case Wednesday.
Trump claims video distributed by White House wasn't altered
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump claimed on Friday that a White House-released video depicting contact between a staffer and a CNN reporter wasn't altered, and he seemingly threatened to revoke the White House press credentials of more reporters.
Trump insisted that the video distributed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was simply a "close-up" and "was not doctored."
"Nobody manipulated it. All that is is a close-up," said the president, who then attacked the reporter for asking the question and called him "dishonest."
A frame-by-frame comparison with an Associated Press video of the same incident from Trump's postelection news conference Wednesday shows that the video tweeted by Sanders appears to speed up CNN reporter Jim Acosta's arm movement when he makes contact with a White House intern who was trying to take away Acosta's microphone. The speedup appears to make the gesture more threatening.
Wisconsin agency won't release records on harassment claims
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials are refusing to release records detailing allegations an agency employee harassed female co-workers at a Milwaukee hotel, saying disclosure would hurt workers' morale and human beings make mistakes.
The Associated Press used an open records request to obtain a March 2018 disciplinary letter informing a DNR employee that he or she would be suspended without pay for a day in April. The letter stated that the employee, whose name and division was redacted, was socializing with co-workers in January at the Hilton Hotel in Milwaukee the night before the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference.
The worker became drunk, stared inappropriately at a female co-worker and made an inappropriate comment to another female co-worker, the letter said. The worker acknowledged during an investigatory interview in February that the behavior wasn't appropriate and "crossed a line."
The letter offers no other details. The AP filed another open records request seeking all documents connected with the investigation. The agency's administrative policy adviser, Victoria Harmon, responded Oct. 31 with an email denying the request.
She wrote that releasing the documents would hamper the agency's ability to hire competent employees as well as future internal investigations if workers knew their statements would be released publicly.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 8, 2018
Don Meredith's daughter suffered as her family fought over her care
With his larger than life personality, Dallas Cowboys quarterback and television football host Don Meredith lived in the public spotlight.
Privately, he sought to ensure a lifetime of care for his youngest child, Heather, who was born with physical and intellectual disabilities.
As a result, Heather, now 49 and described as “pleasant and bubbly,” enjoyed a quiet, comfortable life in Kentucky at Stewart Home & School, a well-appointed, private residential center in Frankfort for many years.
But after he died in 2010, events took a different turn when control of Heather's affairs passed to the football star's widow, Susan Meredith, his third wife and Heather's stepmother.
Over the past year, alleged abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of Heather culminated in a court battle in Frankfort over control of Heather’s affairs, pitting Susan Meredith against Heather's mother, Cheryl King, who was Don Meredith's second wife.
The monthslong controversy over Heather’s well-being ended this year with a court settlement in which King replaced Heather's stepmother as guardian and Susan Meredith agreed to add more than $1 million to Heather's trust, which contained less than $300,000 at the time.
The abuse allegations and dispute over Heather's care unfolded in a series of confidential court and social services proceedings.
But more than 1,000 pages of documents from a separate investigation by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, obtained by the Courier Journal through an open records request, detail the controversy triggered by a 2017 complaint of alleged abuse, neglect and exploitation of Heather from Franklin District Court, which oversees guardianship cases.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: DA releases case file linked to synagogue shooting suspect after media challenges sealing order
The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office Friday afternoon released a 1979 sexual assault case file for the presumed father of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting suspect.
The 39-page file for Randall G. Bowers, who was accused of rape and related charges, does not contain any detailed information about the alleged attack in April 1979.
The DA's office had the file sealed by a judge late Thursday after it was requested by the media.
Prosecutors said they sought a sealing order to give them time to notify the victim and witnesses about the media's request and to protect their privacy.
Worshipers embrace before the start of the Shabbat service, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, at Congregation Rodef Shalom in Shadyside. The Shabbat service, the first since the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, was open to people of all faiths.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and WTAE-TV all objected to the sealing. They filed a motion to have the record unsealed, arguing it was a violation of the presumptive openness of the courts.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Nov. 2, 2018
Judge rules coroner violated the Sunshine Law by withholding Suttner requests
Howard County’s coroner violated the Missouri Sunshine Law when he wrongfully withheld public records from the Columbia Missourian, a Boone County Judge ruled Wednesday.
Sandy Davidson, the Missourian’s attorney and an MU communications law professor, called the ruling “a victory for transparency in government and the public’s right to know.”
The ruling came after Davidson filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of the Missourian Publishing Association, asking a judge to rule that the transcript from an inquest into death of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner is a public record.
Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler previously refused to give the transcript to the Missourian following two separate Sunshine Law requests for the document.
Boone County Circuit Judge Jeff Harris wrote in his judgment that the transcript is not an “investigative report” like Flaspohler claimed and thus not a closed record under the Sunshine Law, as Flaspohler has argued.
Clean Missouri ballot initiative hopes to shine sunlight on lawmaker's records
If you want to request a Missouri state lawmaker’s emails, whether you’ll get them will depend on who you ask.
That’s because some Missouri legislators have long-maintained that as individuals they are exempt from the state’s open records law, known as the Sunshine Law. But a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot hopes to make lawmaker’s adherence with the law a requirement, rather than a choice.
Amendment 1, more commonly known as “Clean Missouri,” would institute ethics reform across the legislature, including requiring legislative records to be made public.
While most of the spotlight has been placed on the proposal’s effort to overhaul how districts are drawn and its fight to remain on the ballot, updating the Sunshine Law is an important tenant of the amendment, said Benjamin Singer, communications director for Clean Missouri.
“Legislators have tried to evade public scrutiny and avoid transparency, but it’s our government, and the people of Missouri deserve to know what their representatives are doing,” Singer said.
Critics of the proposal believe that shining sunlight onto lawmakers’ office emails could invade constituents’ privacy.
Even one instance “of information getting out there and harming a constituent rather than helping them — then that’s one time too many,” Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, said.
But it’s unclear if Missourians would have a means of recourse through the Attorney General’s Office — the entity tasked with enforcing the Sunshine Law — if Clean Missouri passes.
Illinois attorney general hopefuls pledge records access
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — There was good news in an August letter to The Associated Press: The Illinois attorney general's public access counselor had ruled in favor of the AP's Freedom of Information Act request for records that the Department of Human Services had refused to disclose.
The bad news: The AP requested them in 2011.
The agency complied this month, handing over the names of teenagers and young adults hired for taxpayer-financed summer jobs a decade and more ago.
But the lengthy wait for a decision by the public records arbiter points to problems that have dogged it since its introduction — workload and backlogs — which both candidates for attorney general in the Nov. 6 election pledge to fix.
The counselor had 2,330 unresolved appeals of FOIA requests denied by government agencies as of Oct. 12, according to records disclosed by the attorney general's office that day. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat not seeking re-eleection, said that number has been reduced, but declined further comment.
Secret moves hide Wisconsin lawmakers' actions from public
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — It was 10:30 p.m. on June 3, 2011, the last day of deliberations on Wisconsin's state budget. Members of the Joint Finance Committee, some with deep circles under their eyes after days of fighting over budget items, perked up when two Republicans, Sen. Glenn Grothman and Rep. Robin Vos, unveiled a surprise: a massive tax cut worth hundreds of millions of dollars for manufacturers and agricultural businesses.
The official estimate projected that when fully phased in, the measure would cut revenue to the state — which had already made large cuts to education and other programs to balance the budget — by $128.7 million a year.
Democratic Rep. Tamara Grigsby of Milwaukee appeared stunned by the size of the tax cut, asking the Legislative Fiscal Bureau representative to add up the total cost over its four-year phase-in.
"This is nauseating," said Grigsby, who left the Legislature in 2013 and died in 2016. "Really? $320 million to start, and then $128.7 million after that per year? Really? Wow. Wow."
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 26, 2018
Audit shows company failed to keep drug costs low for taxpayer-funded Medicaid
The health insurance group that billed Ohio twice the amount of its competitors to deliver medicine to Medicaid patients also fell significantly short of its goal to keep drug costs low.
The revelation is yet another from an audit by HealthPlan Data Solutions that was commissioned by the Ohio Department of Medicaid to determine whether the state is getting fair prices on drugs.
Portions of the audit were at first kept from the public, but a judge recently ordered that they be made public in response to a Dispatch public records request.
Auditors for HealthPlan found that the pharmacy benefit manager Envolve charged too much overall for drugs as compared to what it agreed to in its contract with Buckeye Health Plan. It is unclear how much more Envolve charged for prescription drugs because the number is redacted, or blacked out.
Three sources, including one who helped write the contract, told The Dispatch the overcharge was in the millions.
Mayor pro tem agrees to unblock activists on Facebook
DENVER (AP) — A Colorado elected official agreed to unblock two anti-fracking activists from her official Facebook page as part of an agreement in a lawsuit accusing her of violating free speech rights by censoring her government social media page.
The Denver Post reports the stipulation says Thornton Mayor Pro Tem Jan Kulmann will not block anyone or delete any further comments from her official Facebook page while the lawsuit proceeds.
The agreement comes after Boulder County commissioner candidate Cliff Willmeng, co-founder of the anti-fracking group East Boulder County United, and Marine Corps reservist Eddie Asher filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver alleging Kulmann deleted their posts on the mayor pro tem's official Facebook page.
Kulmann's attorney, Stan Garnett, calls the case a "complete publicity stunt" brought by two individuals campaigning for Proposition 112, the "Safer Setback Initiative."
National Press Club: Award-Winning Journalist To Judge Who Denied Him Asylum: "I Must Implore You For My Life"
EL PASO, Texas, Oct. 23, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- After eight hours of waiting outside an immigration courtroom, journalist Emilio Gutiérrez-Soto on Monday had an opportunity to make a personal appeal to the judge who last year ordered him deported to the country where he has been threatened with death. The hearing was delayed when Gutiérrez's attorney discovered that the judge had not read or seen crucial evidence on the journalist's behalf.
"I must implore you for my life," Gutiérrez told Judge Robert Hough, adding that he was also appealing for his son, Oscar, who fled to the United States as a teenager with his father after the veteran Mexican journalist's exposés of military corruption made him the target of death threats.
"He has been the victim of the work of an honest journalist," Gutiérrez said, as he gazed from the judge to his now 25-year-old son.
Hough said he is not sure whether he will consider the testimony in his deliberations on the case, which has drawn widespread attention and support for Gutiérrez from journalism organizations and free speech advocates across the globe. The judge said he will issue a ruling sometime in January, after attorneys for the Gutiérrezes and the U.S. government file written arguments in the case.
The case was reopened after the National Press Club, along with 18 other journalism organizations, joined an appeal of Hough's deportation order, which questioned Gutiérrez's credentials as a journalist and argued that the government of Mexico could protect him if he were. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed before the Board of Immigration Appeals, the journalism groups produced scores of news stories written by Gutiérrez and a series of official reports, including one from the U.S. State Department and one from the United Nations, that noted how ineffective the Mexican government has been at protecting reporters.
Sandy Hook shooter's writings ordered released to public
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter's personal belongings, including personal journals containing stories about hurting children and a spreadsheet ranking mass murders, must be released to the public because they are not exempt from open record laws, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Thousands of documents already have been released from the investigation that ended without determining a motive for the massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, but the writings could provide insights into the thinking of the shooter, Adam Lanza.
The Hartford Courant and other media organizations requested to view Lanza's belongings, which were seized by authorities during a search of Lanza's home and described in a state police report released about a year after the shooting. State police rejected the requests, citing privacy rights in the state's search and seizure law.
The Courant appealed to the state Freedom of Information Commission, which in 2015 ordered state police to release the documents. But Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman overruled the commission in 2016 — a decision overturned Tuesday in the 5-0 Supreme Court ruling.
Hawley champions open government. So why doesn’t he use email the public can see?
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley portrays himself as champion of openness in government, proclaiming “the people of Missouri deserve an open, honest and transparent government.”
But Hawley, 38, is one of two statewide officials who do not use email on the job, making it difficult for voters — or his political opponents — to know how he conducts official business.
Hawley’s office told The Kansas City Star that the attorney general “does not find it necessary or helpful” to use email for state business. His spokeswoman, Mary Compton, noted that Hawley’s two predecessors, Democrats Chris Koster, 54, and Jay Nixon, 62, did not use email either.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Auditor Nicole Galloway all use email — and to some extent, texts — for official business, their offices told The Star.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 18, 2018
We May Finally Get To See Honolulu Police Salary Information
More than a year after the statewide police union sued to stop the Honolulu Police Department from releasing the names, ranks and salaries of most officers, a judge has ruled in favor of the city — and Civil Beat.
The dispute began when we made our biennial request last summer for the names and salaries of all public employees in Hawaii — something we do because taxpayers have an inherent right to know who works for them and how much they cost.
Most agencies responded in a timely fashion and the information has long since been published in our public employees salary database.
HPD police officers line up to congratulate promoted officers after promotions ceremony held at McCoy Pavillion, Ala Moana Beach Park.
The HPD also was on the verge of a quick release of the information until the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers filed suit in September 2017. SHOPO argued that the department should withhold the names of all officers who had ever worked undercover. HPD said it planned to withhold only the names of current undercover officers.
Circuit Court Judge Virginia Crandall held a hearing on the matter in May and issued her ruling Wednesday. In it she noted the HPD said it “conducted a case-by-case assessment to assure that each police officer that is identified on the roster is performing normal or regular police duties.”
District to pay out over $200,000 in public records case
Portland Public Schools will ultimately spend more than $200,000 to find out that the identity of public employees on leave is, in fact, public information.
In a ruling Friday from Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Judith Matarazzo, the school district will pay attorneys' fees and other costs incurred by the Portland Tribune and parent Kim Sordyl in the course of fighting the district's lawsuit to prevent the release of that information.
"The amount of time, effort and money it takes to enforce public records laws shows a broken system," said Sordyl, a PPS parent and education advocate who sits on the Oregon Board of Education. "Oregon law is toothless. I'd like to see penalties for employees who intentionally violate public records laws."
The two-year battle began with a November 2016 request from reporter Beth Slovic, who subsequently came to work for the Portland Tribune, for a list of employees on paid administrative leave. The longtime schools reporter had received this information routinely in the past, but that time the request was denied.
"I never intended for this to be a battle," Slovic said. "It was always surprising to me that PPS decided not to turn over these routine records."
Lawsuit filed against Kent County alleges Open Meetings Act violations
GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- A group of citizens are suing the Kent County Board of Commissioners on claims the public body violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA).
The suit argues county officials violated the state's meeting laws at their Sept. 27 board meeting when the public was barred from attending nearly all of the proceedings and let in, one-by-one, only during public comment.
It requests a judge to find the board in violation of OMA at its Sept. 27 meeting, invalidate all actions by the board at that meeting and compel the board to comply with OMA at all future meetings.
Grand Rapids resident Marta Johnson filed the suit Thursday, Oct. 11, in Kent County Circuit Court. She and fellow resident Christian Bell previously filed a complaint with the Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who told them it would be a conflict of interest for him to take up the case.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 11, 2018
Austin American Statesman: Inside Texas State’s year of hate: neo-Nazi propaganda fight
SAN MARCOS — The morning after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, a series of flyers appeared on the Texas State University campus featuring a photo of armed men set against the backdrop of an American flag. “Now that our man Trump is elected,” the flyers read, ”(it’s) time to organize tar and feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this Diversity Garbage.”
Students and faculty immediately began imploring university administrators to move quickly to quash what they considered dangerous hate speech spreading across campus. “We are not dealing with ‘different opinions’ here,” wrote assistant religious studies and philosophy professor Rebecca Raphael in an email to university Provost Eugene Bourgeois. “These are threats of physical assault. University leadership needs to call it what it is, and not treat this as if it’s part of academic discourse.”
Yet, internal communications obtained by the American-Statesman show that administrators struggled to formulate a response — not just to that first propaganda attack, but to waves of similar incidents over the next 13 months. At one point, Texas State administrators floated the idea of an auto-bot response to the increasingly frequent attacks— but, ultimately, they concluded it might be seen as insincere.
Between the November 2016 election and December, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups targeted Texas State at least 10 times, more than any other school in the United States over that period, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle: We know details of 911 calls from Charlie Tan's home. They aren't what you think
On July 25, 2009, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office was called to the Pittsford home of the Tan family.
Multiple times before this call, law enforcement had been dispatched to the two-story house with the neatly manicured lawn. And, as had happened multiple times before, the father, Liang Tan, had a complaint about a family member.
Liang Tan, commonly known as "Jim," told deputies that he and his wife, Qing, known as "Jean," had argued, and she had "grabbed his right forearm and scratched him," a Monroe County Sheriff's Office report shows.
"Qing then told Liang that if he stayed in the house she would call police and say that he hit her," according to the report.
While it has been known that the Monroe County Sheriff's Office had multiple calls from the Tan's Pittsford home at 37 Coach Side Ln. between 2003 and February 2015 — the month when Liang Tan was fatally shot in the house — the specific reasons for most of the calls has not before been public. However, the Democrat and Chronicle has obtained many of the reports, and they paint a picture different than what the community has largely assumed were the nature of those 911 calls and the law enforcement response.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Legal bills raise new questions about Atlanta airport contracts under Reed
Shortly after Kasim Reed became mayor, his administration hired his former law firm to handle sensitive legal issues at the city’s prime asset, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Paul Hastings LLP defended the fairness of lucrative contract awards when the Reed administration was accused of steering them to political donors; helped resolve the threat of a whistleblower lawsuit by fired airport general manager Miguel Southwell; and ultimately advised the city’s response to a federal corruption probe of his administration, including at the airport.
Now, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found that two of the firm’s partners — both close associates of Reed — had financial interests that experts say could have disqualified Paul Hastings from defending the city against claims that some airport contracts were awarded unfairly.
The AJC’s investigation found that Paul Hastings partners William K. Whitner and Dennis Ellis fought legal challenges to lucrative airport contracts on the city’s behalf, according to hundreds of legal invoices obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act.
State sued over list of officers with credibility issues
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing the state for access to a list of police officers with credibility problems.
The state Department of Justice is required to maintain a list compiled by police chiefs who've determined that an officer's credibility has been harmed by committing a crime, lying or other inappropriate actions. News outlets requesting the list are given a redacted version that shows 171 officers but not their names.
The attorney general's office has said releasing the names is an invasion of privacy. The lawsuit's plaintiffs argue the public has a right to the information.
The media organizations participating in the lawsuit include the Nashua Telegraph, the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Concord Monitor, the Portsmouth Herald, the Keene Sentinel and InDepthNH.org.
Tennessee Supreme Court hears reporter defamation case
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Supreme Court took up the question Thursday of whether a reporter can be sued for defamation when reporting fairly and accurately on a public proceeding.
Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk is suing a Nashville investigative reporter over 2016 stories on a lawsuit Funk claims accused him of soliciting a bribe, extortion and blackmail.
At issue is whether reporting accurately on the lawsuit protects Phil Williams, or whether that's unimportant if Funk's attorney can show Williams harbored ill will against the official.
Funk's attorney, John Enkema, told the justices on Thursday they should uphold more than 100 years of precedent in which Tennessee courts have taken into account a reporter's personal feelings when judging whether a news report is defamatory.
The justices questioned Enkema intently about the possible ramifications of that posture.
"Say a high federal official defames people right and left," Justice Holly Kirby said. "Wouldn't a reporter be hamstrung from reporting it for fear of defamation?"
City restores deleted Facebook comments on marijuana proposal
NORTON SHORES, MI – Comments in support of the legalization of marijuana posted on a Norton Shores Police Facebook page have been restored after complaints that their removal was inappropriate government censorship.
The issue arose after the police department shared a Facebook post from AMP Muskegon on Monday, Oct. 1. AMP Muskegon is an anti-drug, community health organization that opposes an upcoming ballot measure to end the marijuana prohibition in Michigan.
Several residents posted comments that disagreed with the post, and city officials acknowledge those posts were hidden from public view.
The situation was resolved on Wednesday, Oct. 3, and each comment was made public after the city received several complaints regarding the incident.
One of those complaints came in the form of a strongly-worded Freedom of Information Act request sent by a member of the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists, or MACRA.
Newspaper seeks to unseal records in coal baron's appeal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia newspaper is asking a federal court to unseal documents filed as former coal baron Don Blankenship sought to have his criminal mine safety conviction overturned.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports it filed a motion Wednesday to intervene in the case so it can argue that 14 documents should be made available to the public and press.
The court filing says Blankenship's accusations of prosecutorial misconduct have been widely circulated and the public has a right to know what information he's using to support the allegations.
Blankenship, who was CEO of Massey Energy, was convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards at Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in a 2010 explosion.
His conviction was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider a further appeal.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Oct. 4, 2018
Kent County likely violated state law by barring public from meeting
GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Kent County likely violated state public meetings law earlier this month.
Jennifer Dukarski, associate general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, says the county likely violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act by barring protesters wholesale from the Kent County Board of Commissioner's relocated Sept. 13 meeting and asking for identification at the door.
People who breach the peace at a meeting can be excluded from attendance, according to the Act, but excluding those in the group not causing a disruption is tantamount to suppressing free speech, Dukarski said.
"You're denying the voice of an entire group of people who have a certain opinion on a matter of import in the community," Dukarski said. "It's a problem, and it runs the risk of being unconstitutional."
Off limits: Report on state college abuse kept from public
Even as top Pennsylvania officials assail the Catholic Church over its cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, a state agency is refusing to release a report on allegations of sexual abuse by a high-ranking state university administrator despite lingering questions about how the accusers’ complaints were handled.
In a case that bears some broad similarities to — and contains important differences with — the Pennsylvania church scandal that exploded in August, Pennsylvania’s higher education agency won’t agree to allow the public to see the 10-year-old report on former East Stroudsburg University Vice President Isaac Sanders. The report has taken on fresh significance in the wake of a new federal lawsuit by Sanders over his firing that could put Pennsylvania taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars.
The office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro — acting as the higher-ed agency’s lawyer — says the report on Sanders remains subject to an 8-year-old confidentiality agreement and can’t be released. But Sanders’ lawyer says he “could care less” if the document is disclosed, and the students who accused Sanders of sexual assault and harassment have long wanted the state’s evidence against him made public, only to be rebuffed by state officials.
The government’s position that it should remain out of public view stands in sharp contrast to Shapiro’s well-publicized effort to force the Catholic Church to be more transparent about child sexual abuse.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 27, 2018
Sun-Sentinel: Cops in Parkland shooting under investigation for crimes
Florida’s top law enforcement agency says it is investigating whether police committed crimes while responding to February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Immediately after the shooting, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate law enforcement’s response to the shooting, including actions by school deputy Scot Peterson, who took cover outside rather than rush into the building as teachers and children were being shot.
Now, the FDLE tells the South Florida Sun Sentinel that its investigation is criminal in nature. The claim surprised legal experts and raised questions about whether police could be held criminally liable for faltering and not swiftly taking down the shooter.
In addition, experts question whether the label of a criminal investigation is actually designed to shield public records from view. Florida law allows law enforcement to withhold some records related to active criminal investigations.
The Denver Post: Shrouded Justice: Complaints against Colorado lawyers hidden from public
Dozens of lawsuits filed against lawyers across Colorado — including malpractice cases whose plaintiffs are themselves lawyers — have been hidden from the public for years, keeping secret the details of any alleged misconduct and misdeeds.
The lawsuits have been suppressed, at least one of them forever, by the judges who presided over them and typically at the request of the lawyers being sued, The Denver Post found. The bulk were sealed at the time a settlement was reached, records show.
In several cases, The Post learned, the defendant lawyers were concerned that potentially negative information about them could be made public — one worried that future clients would avoid her because of the allegations in the lawsuit — according to interviews and copies of documents from several suppressed cases shared with the newspaper.
The array of alleged misconduct in the suppressed cases The Post reviewed is broad: misappropriating client cash; lying to the court; overcharging and over-billing clients; hiding assets; careless advice that impacted a lawsuit’s outcome.
In all, The Post found at least 38 suppressed lawsuits that were filed against attorneys in the past five years that, according to interviews and court records, alleged some type of misconduct and were ultimately settled. It’s unclear how many more exist because the state’s court system doesn’t uniformly categorize malpractice cases.
Kavanaugh accuser asks Senate to limit press access for hearing
Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers have asked senators to limit the press who will be allowed in the room to cover Thursday's hearing with her and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and sought to dictate at least some of the outlets.
Coverage is one of a number of issues Ms. Blasey Ford's lawyers are negotiating with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Michael Bromwich said in emails sent Tuesday afternoon that he was requesting access for three "robocams," three specific wire services, photographers from the Associated Press, Reuters and one unspecified service, and a pool reporter for newspapers and magazines. In a follow-up email he specified that the robocams should be operated by "the CSPAN TV pool," and said he also wanted space for a radio reporter.
High school journalists stand up to censorship and win
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Armed with a new Vermont law that protects student journalists, four high school editors have stood up to censorship and won, prompting their school to revamp its media policy.
The Burlington High School students had posted a story on the school newspaper website that they collectively wrote on a school employee facing unprofessional conduct charges from the state. They had gotten a tip about the investigation and filed a public records request, posting the story the night of Sept. 10.
The next morning, the principal asked the students' adviser to take it down. The students quickly consulted with legal experts about what do to and wrote on the website that their article had been censored.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 20, 2018
School to adopt new policy after accused of censorship
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont school district says it will adopt a new policy in line with a state law aimed at protecting student journalists after students accused the Burlington High School of censoring a recent school newspaper article.
Last week the principal asked the students to take down a story they broke on the student newspaper website about a school employee facing unprofessional conduct charges.
They took the story down on Tuesday and later vowed to fight the school's action based on the new law. The principal said Thursday that the students could repost the story since the story had appeared in other media.
The school district announced Saturday that it will adopt a new policy consistent with the provisions of the law.
Kentucky state police rank atop records scofflaw list
Louisville TV station WDRB recently published an article on its website about the worst violators of Kentucky's Open Records Act over the past five years. The Kentucky State Police tops the list.
The station notes the irony of this -- that an agency charged with enforcement of the law would so routinely ignore one that applies to itself. Specifically the station found that the Kentucky Attorney General's office, which is the primary arbiter of open records disputes, has found KSP in violation 33 times since 2013. The scandal-plagued University of Louisville came in second with 30 violations over the term.
WDRB cites by way of example its own recent experience. The station requested a copy of a court settlement between KSP and a Harlan County man who was beaten by troopers while handcuffed. KSP's internal counsel sent a generic denial to the request, saying no settlement existed, and if it did, "any documents related to a possible settlement are protected by attorney-client privilege."
But there was a settlement, for $130,000, and the terms of such settlements are by both statute and a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling public record.
The station quotes Jon Fleischaker, the state's leading First Amendment attorney who wrote much of Kentucky's open records statute, as saying such antics by KSP are not new. He said the state police "do not like the proposition that the public has a right to know how they are handling matters, and they have always been recalcitrant in terms of complying with the clear mandate of the open records law."
Court allows reporters to inspect slain family's autopsies
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Reporters on Wednesday viewed preliminary autopsy reports in the still-unsolved slayings of eight Ohio family members in one of the state's most notorious crimes, following a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court. The reports provided few new details.
The court ruled unanimously in favor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, saying Ohio law allows reporters to view preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, and photographs.
The law governing the viewing of the information is clear, the court said in overturning a lower-court decision.
If "a journalist submits a proper request to review preliminary autopsy and investigative notes and findings, suicide notes, or photographs of the decedent made by the coroner, the coroner 'shall' grant the request," the court said.
The still-unsolved case involves seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes in Piketon in southern Ohio in April 2016.
The Attorney General's Office, which is investigating the killings, made single-page reports for each victim available for inspection Wednesday morning. Under Ohio law, reporters can only view the information and are prohibited even from taking notes. No photos were released.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 13, 2018
The Philadelphia Inquirer: Hundreds at risk of water shutoffs in Camden’s semi-privatized water system
Jasmine Walker's brick-face home in Camden's Waterfront South section appeared ordinary at first: A purple cutout of the alphabet was pasted to the wall, and a television set rested in the living room, which was cluttered with her kids' toys. But in the next room, dirty laundry lay in piles, the defunct sink overflowed with dishes, water containers of every size littered the tables and floor, and a putrid smell permeated the air.
"I just feel hopeless," Walker said as she sat in her home, anxiously bouncing her 7-month-old daughter, Elaya, on her knee. "I can't seem to win."
In July, American Water, the for-profit company that leases Camden's water system, stopped service to her home due to failure to pay, leaving Walker, 25, and her two daughters, newborn Elaya and 6-year-old Naja, without running water for months. That finally changed on Wednesday, Walker said, after she submitted a form detailing the symptoms of her severe epilepsy and American Water reestablished her water service.
Throughout the city, there are more than 400 homes at risk of having their water shut off like Walker's under Camden's privatized water contract, according to a report acquired by the Inquirer and Daily News through the state's Open Public Records Act.
Newspaper seeks to unseal senator's arrest records
LANCASTER, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire newspaper has filed a motion to unseal court documents related to domestic violence allegations against Democratic State Sen. Jeff Woodburn.
The Caledonian Record reports a hearing on the motion filed by the Berlin Sun was closed to the public and the press Monday.
Managing editor of the newspaper Barbara Tetreault argues court records are presumed public as defined by the Constitution and state Supreme Court precedent.
The Attorney General's office says the records should remain sealed to protect the integrity of the case.
Woodburn is accused of striking and biting a woman, and kicking in the door of her home. He has pleaded not guilty to assault and domestic violence charges.
Woodburn says he will make a statement after the primary election Tuesday.
Detroit has yet to release dashcam video from 2017 officer-involved shooting
Detroit police, after some prodding, released hundreds of records related to the officer-involved fatal shooting of a 19-year-old man in the backyard of an abandoned home, but have ignored multiple requests for release of the associated dashcam video.
Raynard Burton, according to police reports reviewed by MLive, on Feb. 13, 2017 sped away from police, crashed into another car, smashed the side of a building and then ran away on foot with officers in pursuit.
Eventually cornered in the littered, overgrown backyard of a vacant home with a collapsed garage, police reports say former Detroit Police Officer Jerold Blanding fired a fatal shot into Burton's chest when Burton, who was unarmed, attempted to grab the officer's gun.
While the actual shooting wasn't captured on video, Detroit Police Chief James Craig shortly after Burton's death confirmed there was footage from the chase, which should also include audio and provide a better understanding of the led to the fatal shooting.
Dashcam video was also mentioned in Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's report clearing Blanding, who was initially suspended and later fired for an unrelated matter, and in multiple investigation documents obtained by MLive through a Freedom of Information Act request.
University of Missouri System lawsuit over open records will move forward
In a battle over the Sunshine Law, a lawsuit facing the University of Missouri System will move forward, a judge ruled Friday.
In May 2016, Animal Rescue, Media & Education, also known as the Beagle Freedom Project, sued the UM System and its records custodian, Paula Barrett. The suit claimed they violated state open records laws by inflating the costs to produce public records the group had requested.
The defendants made a motion for summary judgment, which would have kept the case from going to trial, but Judge Jeff Harris denied that motion Friday. The court found six issues that need to be resolved in the case:
Whether the UM System is keeping the costs to produce records as low as possible.What kind of employees the UM System uses to produce records.The scope of Animal Rescue, Media & Education’s records request.How the UM System calculated the time it would take to respond to records.The UM System’s record-keeping practices and its impact on the cost of responding to the requests.The $82,222.33 price tag the UM System put on Animal Rescue, Media & Education’s records request.
The defendants argued to stop the lawsuit, saying Animal Rescue, Media & Education couldn’t sue on behalf of others because it doesn’t have official members. The defendants also said they complied with the Sunshine Law by preparing the cost estimate, according to court documents filed by the defendants.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Sept. 6, 2018
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: School districts pay thousands of dollars to settle complaints of wrongdoing
In 2015, the Mt. Lebanon School District hired a volleyball coach despite getting warnings that he had allegedly behaved inappropriately toward players two decades earlier. Later that year, Brian Begor was suspended and resigned after players accused him of “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature,” according to a federal lawsuit.
Mr. Begor was never charged with a crime, although four high school girls and their parents accused him of sexual misconduct in a 2016 federal lawsuit.
In February, Mt. Lebanon agreed to settle that suit for $40,000.
Each year, local school districts agree to settle allegations of negligence, discrimination and other wrongdoing by the district and its employees.
The agreements allow districts to resolve potentially costly and lengthy court battles without admitting fault. In many cases, the settlements are confidential and limit what the parties can say about them publicly.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette submitted Right-To-Know requests to more than 40 Allegheny County districts seeking settlements over the last five years. Some districts denied the request, claiming it was not sufficiently specific. But responses from more than two dozen area districts demonstrate the types of lawsuits and complaints boards have agreed to settle in recent years.
Stamford Advocate: Scrutiny of correction officers rattles Connecticut’s prisons
Correction officers’ use of force against inmates increased over the last 10 years even as Connecticut’s prison population declined, state statistics show.
But the two sides that run the state’s prisons — corrections officers and officials at the Department of Correction — disagree over the scope of the problem, whether use of force is rising or falling and what, if anything, should be done.
Corrections officers say the need to use force has risen because of prison reforms initiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, such as an often celebrated early release program and less use of isolation cells to punish misbehavior.
“We are dealing with maximum security prisons and a lot of the crimes are violent,” said Rudy Demiraj, president of ASFCME Local 387, which represents prison guards. “The idea of turning prison into some kind of summer camp is not proving to be positive.”
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism: Secret political cash quietly reshaping Wisconsin laws
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — At age 2, Yasmine Clark was lead-poisoned so severely that she had to be hospitalized for emergency chelation treatment to cleanse her blood of life-threatening levels of the heavy metal.
At age 5, Yasmine was again diagnosed with lead poisoning. She suffered significant brain damage. Her IQ declined. She developed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
So, in 2006, at age 5, Yasmine became a plaintiff in a Milwaukee County lawsuit filed against multiple paint companies, including National Lead, now called NL Industries, which had made lead paint like that found in the rental homes where she was raised in Milwaukee.
She was among about 170 Wisconsin children named as plaintiffs in lawsuits against the paint companies. The suits sought compensation for medical expenses and other damages for what their attorneys said were severe and permanent injuries from ingesting lead-tainted paint chips.
While these children had compelling personal stories, NL Industries had something even more powerful on its side: Republican politicians facing recall elections in 2011 and 2012 who secretly benefited from $750,000 contributed by NL's owner, Harold Simmons, to an "independent" political group.
Oregon town's leaders may skirt law at DC tree-lighting
SWEET HOME, Ore. (AP) — The City Council of a small Oregon town could break a state open meetings law when they attend the tree-lighting ceremony this Christmas in Washington, D.C.
The Democrat Herald reports that this year's Capitol Christmas Tree was selected from the Sweet Home Ranger District and a City Council delegation will attend the ceremony.
But the town's city manager and city attorney warn that plans by a fourth council member to attend the event on her own could violate the state's open meetings law.
With four members in attendance, a majority of the seven-member council would be present and could feasibly conduct official business.
Council member Lisa Gourley says the law provides for public officials to attend social events together.
Other council members agree, but say the plans could look bad.
‘My life is threatened.’ Listen to Sen. Daphne Campbell call 911 on a Herald reporter
When a Miami Herald reporter questioned state lawmaker Daphne Campbell after a candidates event, she called 911 to ask for police protection.
“Can you please send a police for me, please, right now,” Campbell told the Miami-Dade police dispatcher. “My life is threatened.”
Miami-Dade police this week released audio of the call made by Campbell, the Democratic state senator who lost reelection Tuesday. In the call, Campbell never specified that the woman “in the colorful dress” was Miami Herald reporter Sarah Blaskey — or the exact nature of her supposed threats.
Washington task force on public records set to convene
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A public records task force created after Washington lawmakers attempted to exempt themselves from the state's Public Records Act is set to convene its first of four meetings.
Wednesday's inaugural meeting will address the topic that caused tension between the Legislature and a coalition of media groups that sued last year: the issue of legislative records and lawmakers' assertion that they are not subject to the same disclosure rules that apply to other elected officials.
The creation of the task force came after a contentious battle over a bill earlier this year — contested by the media and open government advocates — in which lawmakers had sought to change the law to retroactively specify that the state's voter-approved Public Records Act did not apply to the legislative branch. Lawmakers introduced and passed the bill — which allowed for a more limited legislative disclosure obligation for things like daily calendars and correspondence with lobbyists — in two days, overriding all normal legislative procedures to quickly advance it with minimal public input. After thousands of people called or emailed the governor's office in opposition, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed the measure.
That bill was in response to a lawsuit filed by a media coalition, led by The Associated Press, who asserted lawmakers were violating the law by not releasing emails, schedules and reports of sexual harassment. In January, a Thurston County superior court judge ruled that while the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not subject to the Public Records Act, the statute was clear that the offices of individual lawmakers were covered by the law. That ruling has been appealed, and is currently awaiting arguments before the state Supreme Court.
Virginia to keep medical cannabis licensing process secret
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The state panel that will award Virginia's first five medical marijuana licenses will keep the application review process confidential.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Virginia Board of Pharmacy Chair Rafael Saenz announced Tuesday that the 51 applications would be considered in closed session. The decision came after regulators conferred about Virginia's public-meeting law for 30 minutes. The pharmacy board's executive director, Caroline Juran, says the attorney general's office provided advice.
Medical cannabis applications are being treated as medical license applications, and are therefore exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act — unlike other business proposals.
The presiding committee did release initial application scores, but the companies weren't identified by name.
This first wave of dispensaries will produce only CBD or THC-A oils, which don't provide a high.
Pittsburg Post-Gazette: School districts pay thousands of dollars to settle complaints of wrongdoing
In 2015, the Mt. Lebanon School District hired a volleyball coach despite getting warnings that he had allegedly behaved inappropriately toward players two decades earlier. Later that year, Brian Begor was suspended and resigned after players accused him of “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature,” according to a federal lawsuit.
Mr. Begor was never charged with a crime, although four high school girls and their parents accused him of sexual misconduct in a 2016 federal lawsuit.
In February, Mt. Lebanon agreed to settle that suit for $40,000.
Each year, local school districts agree to settle allegations of negligence, discrimination and other wrongdoing by the district and its employees.
The agreements allow districts to resolve potentially costly and lengthy court battles without admitting fault. In many cases, the settlements are confidential and limit what the parties can say about them publicly.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 30, 2018
Mississippi mayor to city employees: Don't talk to media
MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi mayor is telling city employees and other elected officials not to talk to the media, saying all information about local government has to come from him.
McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley, a Democrat, has been in office about two months. He told the Enterprise-Journal on Monday that he is the only city spokesman.
"If you all want to know something, you see me," Lockley told the newspaper. "No city employee is supposed to talk to you."
City Administrator Kelvin Butler sent an email Aug. 15 telling city employees, including police and fire chiefs, not to talk to the press. The email was also addressed to the selectmen on the city's elected governing board.
One selectman, Republican Ted Tullos, told the newspaper he can speak about city issues.
"Some people are control freaks," Tullos said. "I can give my opinion. ... I can speak for being an elected official."
The email was sent at about the time the city board was in the midst of several turbulent meetings about department directors' job security and about a selectman's proposal to decriminalize the use of small amounts of marijuana. It was sent the same day the newspaper began inquiring about traffic tickets issued to another selectman. The mayor, however, said the email wasn't a response to any specific Enterprise-Journal article.
"Understand right now in order to control what comes out of City Hall, to control what's misconstrued by the newspaper or the radio, I want to make sure if it's going to be misconstrued, it's coming out of my mouth," Lockley said. "Right now, until I get things the way I want it, all of it's going to come through the mayor's office."
Billings Gazette, KTVQ want city to pay legal fees in police sexual misconduct case
The Billings Gazette and KTVQ want the city to pay their legal fees after intervening in a court case meant to keep secret the names of police officers disciplined for sexual misconduct.
The two media outlets have asked District Court Judge Donald Harris to order the city to pay legal fees for the newspaper and television station, saying they wrongly had to go to court to enforce the public’s right to know. That right is laid out in the state and U.S. constitutions.
The legal wrangling stems from public information requests The Gazette made regarding the discipline for sexual encounters between three Billings Police Department officers and one city employee, which took place either on city property or while the individuals were on duty.
The trysts were discovered during an unrelated investigation into the city employee’s drug thefts at the BPD evidence locker.
The media outlets argue the fees are warranted because the city breached the public’s right to know. They say it exceeded and later violated court orders, and that it failed to act as a neutral party.
The city opposes the request, saying it worked diligently to redact the requested 1,000-plus pages of information while ensuring privacy protections for third parties. It also noted that some redactions the court ordered were more extensive than those the city had proposed.
North Carolina newspaper asks court to unseal lawsuit
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina newspaper has asked a state appeals court to order the public release of a lawsuit involving a car dealership owner charged in South Carolina with molesting a 15-year-old boy during a NASCAR weekend at Darlington Raceway.
The Fayetteville Observer reports that its attorney argued Wednesday that a Superior Court judge's decision last year to keep the case sealed was overly broad and should be reversed by the state's Court of Appeals.
An appeals court panel didn't immediately rule on the newspaper's request, which was opposed by a lawyer for parties in the sealed case. That attorney, James A. "Trey" McLean III, argued that the documents should remain sealed to protect children involved in the case.
Other news organizations, including The Associated Press, have supported the Observer's appeal.
Voting rights group behind secretive FOIA requests to Michigan clerks
LANSING, MI – A voting rights organization is behind Freedom of Information Act requests to Michigan clerks for ballots from the 2016 election.
The national Priorities USA Foundation is behind the requests for information, a spokesperson confirmed. In a statement, the group said it was undertaking a research effort.
"In light of numerous threats to voting rights in recent years, the Priorities USA Foundation is committed to identifying and eliminating barriers to voting and ensuring that future elections are fair and accessible for every eligible voter," the group said in a statement.
"To this end, the Priorities USA Foundation recently began an in-depth research effort to determine whether any discrepancies exist in the ballot process across various states and precincts that might disproportionately affect certain communities, particularly communities of color and young people."
The group contracted with an outside company to make the FOIA requests.
In Michigan that resulted in a series of Freedom of Information Act requests that alarmed local clerks. A person identifying themselves only as "Emily" requested information from the 2016 election like poll books, voted ballots and absentee voting envelopes, including peoples' signatures, from clerks across the state.
In cases where she sent payment, "Emily" blacked out the address on her checks.
The Priorities USA Foundation is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting voting rights through advocacy, litigation and research. It's affiliated with Priorities USA, a Democratic Super PAC.
Ashland rejects proposal to videotape more meetings
The city of Ashland Board of Commissioners rejected a request to videotape more municipal meetings Thursday because of concerns it could dissuade volunteers and citizens from participating in local government.
The decision to reject the video proposal, however, was not without conflict. City Commissioner Matt Perkins later said the city's Director of Economic Development, Chris Pullem, misrepresented the cost of videotaping meetings in an email sent to volunteer board members. Pullem said the cost estimate was just a guess and he was trying to provide the information to board members he had available at the time.
"I'm troubled by the discrepancy," Perkins said.
And, it appears the city also violated the State Open Meetings Act by conducting an email poll of volunteer board members about the issue instead of gathering the information through an open, public meeting.
Police video shows detention of Denver journalist
DENVER (AP) — Body camera video of police detaining a Denver journalist photographing officers shows one officer taking her phone and another handcuffing her right after saying she would be arrested for interfering if she didn't stop.
Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, was put in a patrol car in July after trying to document police tending to a handcuffed naked man on a sidewalk.
An officer used his body and hands to block her. When she stopped to talk, he said medical privacy law trumped her First Amendment rights to record the scene.
She was handcuffed after she then tried to photograph his badge. Officers told her to stand up and "act like a lady" and to stop resisting and relax when she said they were hurting her. She was released after about 10 minutes.
Judge hears closing arguments in Galloway Sunshine suit
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge is weighing arguments in a lawsuit alleging that Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway allowed text messages to be deleted in the face of an open records request.
The Jefferson City News-Tribune reports that attorneys for the Missouri Alliance for Freedom, a conservative nonprofit, and Galloway made closing arguments Tuesday. A Cole County judge isn't expected to rule until late September or early October.
The nonprofit's attorney, Ed Greim, says Galloway's office violated its own policies about preserving records. Part of the issue for the auditor's office is their use of iPhones with settings that automatically erased messages after 30 days, unless the settings were changed.
Galloway's chief litigation counsel says the group was given screen-shots of some text messages, as well as 45,000 pages of emails and other communications.
Local officials respond to FOIA from ‘Emily’
City and township officials in Mason County and across the state were rocked last week by a mysterious Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all copies of all Election Day ballots and personal absentee voter information from the 2016 presidential election.
The request came from an organization called United Impact Group with a listed address in Astoria, New York, which is in Queens. It did not contain an explanation or reason for the request.
The letter was signed, simply, “Emily.”
The City of Ludington on Monday shared its copy of the letter, which included a contact phone number and email address, with the Daily News, and LDN staff subsequently reached out to the group seeking a comment about the motives behind the statewide FOIA request, but has not heard back at this time.
Representatives from local municipalities said the requests started to filter into the county around Monday, Aug. 20 and have now made their way to every township and city in the county.
United Impact Group has asked every municipality for Election Day ballots and related materials including copies of all ballots cast and counted, ballots cast and not counted, the reason any ballots were not counted and all rejected or spoiled ballots.
Also requested are copies of all absentee ballots and provisional ballots and the reasons why any were deemed ineligible or not counted. United Impact Group has also asked for “any and all records” containing the names and information about absentee voters.
Read the full story in Tuesday's Ludington Daily News print and e-Editions
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 23, 2018
America, help! The freedom of the nation depends on you, hundreds of news outlets write
Here are excerpts from a nationwide drive of newspaper editorials to promote a free press and reject President Donald Trump's drive to scapegoat journalists as "enemies of the people." (Thanks to the many editors who e-mailed their editorials our way).
The Boston Globe: "Replacing a free media with a state-run media has always been a first order of business for any corrupt regime taking over a country."
Greensboro (North Carolina) News & Record: President Trump "believes there should be restrictions on how your government and elected officials should be covered, that there should be prohibitions on that flow of information. This in direct contradiction to the principle that the framers of our Constitution gave first priority ...
"That's the irrefutable reason that the authors of the Constitution specified a free press in its very first amendment. They were thinking about you."
Kansas newspaper goes from endorsing Trump to denouncing his attacks on the press
It hasn't even been two years since the editorial board of the Topeka Capital-Journal handed Donald Trump one of his few newspaper endorsements in the run-up to the 2016 election, calling him "the wisest choice to lead our nation going forward."
But on Thursday, the paper will publish a very different editorial, as it joins nearly 350 other publications across the country in standing up to Trump's anti-press rhetoric.
"It's an acknowledgment that we're part of this community," Capital-Journal publisher Stephen Wade told CNN. "The people who work for me here, my teammates, they live here, they play here. We're just normal people, too. To make us out to be enemies is just not right."
Trump has routinely used the phrase "enemies of the people" to rail against the media, calling unfavorable coverage of his administration "fake news." The paper's editorial will zero in on these attacks.
"We're sitting here in Topeka, the capital city of Kansas, and we're in the middle of a heated election year," Wade said. "It's one of those deals where if someone doesn't like what's being asked, if they think we're not being favorable to their candidate of choice, then it gets to be very contentious. The cry of of 'fake news' starts to get yelled across the room. It's a difficult environment."
Editorial | How we restore faith in journalism
The president of the United States enjoys hurling insults, like a howitzer firing shells, at American institutions. The court system. The FBI. The “Justice” Department. The media. The U.S. Congress. As is true for all 487 people, places and things that The New York Times says Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter since declaring his presidential candidacy, none of these institutions is perfect. They make mistakes. Like the presidency, they also make a difference in people’s daily lives.
Consider the potential of tens of thousands of news media members. Consider the potential of The San Diego Union-Tribune’s staff.
These journalists seek the truth and report it while minimizing harm every day. They don’t promote any single person, ideology or political agenda. Their only agenda is the truth.
Just one example? Without the hard work of journalists at several local news outlets, the region’s deadly hepatitis A outbreak may have been much worse. When The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board named the 20 unidentified people who died during the crisis as its 2017 people of the year, we wrote, “These 20 hepatitis A deaths represent the real cost of a series of public policy errors, missteps and inaction.” If not for journalists, these government lapses would have been more egregious.
Judge blasts Sun Sentinel for publishing confidential information in Parkland school shooting case
A furious judge scolded the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Wednesday for publishing confidential but legally obtained information about Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer said the newspaper flouted her order that portions of a school district report about Cruz should remain shielded from the public. In the future, she declared, she will consider listing exactly what the newspaper can and cannot print.
Scherer did not rule on a school district request that the newspaper and two reporters be held in contempt for publishing the information.
At issue is a report released Aug. 3 based on Cruz's educational record, revealing what officials knew about him in the years leading up to his Feb. 14 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where he killed 17 people and wounded 17 more.
Government transparency bill would mandate regular updates
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey lawmaker is pushing for legislation to require greater transparency in state government.
Republican state Sen. Joe Pennacchio said Tuesday he's pushing for legislation in response to an Associated Press report that showed state agency performance reports previously promised to be updated monthly would be updated quarterly.
Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie had promised the monthly updates, though some agencies failed to meet the deadline. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is keeping the reports, but his administration says they'll be updated periodically. Three of 22 agencies have not posted any updates since Christie left office.
Pennacchio's legislation would mandate updates and set up a transparency committee to advise and coordinate greater openness.
Pennacchio says he's pushing the measure originally proposed in 2012 in light of the AP's report.
UNC-Chapel Hill spends $21 million on academic scandal
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — UNC-Chapel Hill has spent $21 million on investigations, public relations and legal bills connected to the six-year academic scandal at the school.
The university's total bill came from a Freedom of Information Act request from The News & Observer of Raleigh.
The school spent $3.5 million on a number of lawyers to defend it against the NCAA's investigation into irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department.
The school got the result it wanted as an infractions committee panel ruled there were no violations because the school argued the courses were legitimate and available to non-athletes, too.
University officials say the $21 million did not come from tuition or taxpayer money appropriated by lawmakers.
Gov. Inslee condemns state lawmaker’s remarks calling journalists ‘dirty, godless, hateful people’
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that state Rep. Matt Shea’s remarks calling journalists “those dirty, godless, hateful people” should disqualify him from the public-records task force.
Shea, a Republican from Spokane Valley and member of GOP House leadership, made the remarks over the weekend at a gun-rights rally in Spokane.
In a tweet Tuesday, Inslee said, “There is no excuse for condoning such ill-informed and radical rhetoric from the House GOP caucus chair” and the remarks should disqualify Shea.
Inslee Chief of Staff David Postman said the governor’s office reached out to the House Republican chief of staff with concerns Monday about Shea’s remarks, though it didn’t ask for Shea to step down from the task force.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 16, 2018
The New York Times: Inside Twitter’s Struggle Over What Gets Banned
SAN FRANCISCO — With his arms folded, Jack Dorsey paced back and forth in a conference room at Twitter’s headquarters on Friday afternoon.
In a rare look inside one of the social media company’s policy meetings, the Twitter chief executive gathered with 18 colleagues, including the safety team, to debate ways to make the social media service safer for its users. The discussion quickly turned to how to rid the site of “dehumanizing” speech, even if it did not violate Twitter’s rules, which forbid direct threats of violence and some forms of hate speech but do not prohibit deception or misinformation.
Twitter asked that members of its safety team not be identified, for fear of them becoming targeted by internet trolls. “Please bear with me,” said one team member at the meeting. “This is incredibly complex.”
For about an hour, the group tried to get a handle on what constituted dehumanizing speech. At one point, Mr. Dorsey wondered if there was a technology solution. There was no agreement on an answer.
Can Trump’s White House legally ban reporters?
As long as reporters have covered government officials, they’ve sought greater access than the government was willing to allow.
The White House excluded a CNN reporter from an international trade announcement with the president of the European Commission on July 25, in apparent retaliation after she shouted unwelcome questions at President Donald Trump during an Oval Office appearance. Many observers viewed this move as an escalation of the Trump administration’s hostility toward journalists.
The Washington Post called the decision to exclude CNN’s Kaitlan Collins “highly unusual and possibly unprecedented.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called it “an offense against the First Amendment interests of all of us.”
But did the White House actually violate the Constitution?
As a media law professor, I regularly remind students that the First Amendment right of access to government officials, records and events is surprisingly uncertain. The First Amendment guarantees all Americans freedom to speak and publish without government interference. It has been broadly interpreted by the Supreme Court to forbid the government from restraining or punishing a speaker based on the content of the speaker’s message.
While journalists have a clearly established First Amendment right to publish the news they’ve gathered – even in extreme cases, like the leak of stolen Pentagon documents – it’s much less clear that the First Amendment protects the right to gather the news in the first place.
Salt Lake Tribune: Snubbed for a tourism grant, this Utah man launched his own journalistic investigation that caught board members enriching themselves
After a career as an accountant, Lynn David bought a 9,000-square-foot house just outside of Midway that he turned into The Hiking Inn, a bed and breakfast aimed at drawing tourists with a taste for the outdoors to this mountain recreation wonderland.
In 2017, David applied for a small grant from the regional Tourism Advisory Board, created to disperse a percentage of the hotel tax collected in Wasatch County, but he was turned down.
This year, David was back with a beefed up proposal and a request for $3,600 — which he would match with his own money — to improve The Hiking Inn’s website and to do some additional advertising. He was offered $500, such a pittance, he said, that it was pointless.
Then David got curious: Where was the money going? Then he got busy digging, and what he found disturbed him.
Through a series of requests under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act and a dive into other publicly available records, David found that for 2018, the Tourism Advisory Board had $50,000 to allocate and got 29 applications totaling more than three times that amount of money.
The Missoulian: Documents provide new information on dismissal of ex-prison warden
Newly released documents provide more insight into the stint of a Montana State Prison warden who was fired before the end of his probationary period.
But they don't include specific details about reasons for Michael Fletcher's termination. Fletcher's hiring was announced in March 2017 and he briefly overlapped with the outgoing warden. He was dismissed in January 2018.
Because Fletcher was let go during his probationary period, the department could terminate him for any reason or no reason at all.
The nearly 150 pages of records include anonymous complaints claiming bad behavior by Fletcher, though it’s unclear whether the accusations were investigated or confirmed by the state Department of Corrections.
Fletcher disputes nearly all the accusations, which include poor treatment of prisoners, sexual harassment, trouble with alcohol and retaliation against employees who brought forward concerns.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections would not confirm if Fletcher was ever formally investigated, answering a question about whether an investigation occurred by saying “The department has provided all available public records on this issue and has no further comment.”
De Blasio lets security haul away Post reporter for asking question
Mayor Bill de Blasio is a such a big believer in the free press that he let two bodyguards physically remove a credentialed Post reporter who had the temerity to ask him a question in public on Sunday.
The unusual muzzling unfolded at the start of the annual Dominican Day Parade in Manhattan, where the reporter sought de Blasio’s reaction to The Post’s front page story about his administration’s many meetings with lobbyists.
It also came after Hizzoner appeared on national TV Sunday to proclaim, “I believe in a free, strong media with diverse views — I’ll defend it with all I’ve got.”
Just two hours later, after de Blasio cut a ribbon to kick off the parade and was posing for photos near West 37th Street and Sixth Avenue, the reporter asked him to comment on the Page One “CITY FOR SALE” story.
Instead of answering or even declining to answer the question, the mayor watched as two members of his NYPD security detail approached the reporter — who was wearing a police-issued press pass around his neck — with one grabbing his shoulder and leading him away from the mayor.
“Kevin, you have to leave. You can’t be here,” the plainclothes cop said.
Both bodyguards then escorted the reporter about a half-block away, where a member of the NYPD’s public information office, Officer Brian Magoolaghan, told him, “Come on, Kevin. No stunts today.”
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 9, 2018
The Baltimore Sun: Howard County human rights investigator accuses some school board members of discrimination, homophobia
hen Renee Foose stepped down last year as superintendent of Howard County schools, someone tied a “get well” balloon to her mailbox.
But the message had been altered: “Don’t” get well soon, her anonymous correspondent wished.
It was a token of the hostility that seethed beneath the surface of one of the highest achieving and most lauded school districts in the nation.
After Foose resigned last May, the county Office of Human Rights found, her top deputies were refused appointments and barred from meetings. One was banished to a smaller office.
In reports obtained by The Baltimore Sun, human rights investigator Cheryl Brower wrote that she had found reasonable cause to believe some school board members discriminated against three of Foose’s chiefs: Tim Thornburg, director of staff relations; Grace Chesney, chief accountability officer; and John White, director of communications.
They were targeted for supporting her, Brower wrote, and in the cases of Chesney and Thornburg, for being gay. She noted evidence that two school board members had uttered homophobic remarks.
The Oregonian: Oregon allows educators to be punished in secret
Several years ago, when she was a high school teacher, a new assistant principal at Ockley Green Middle School broke a rule, partly because Portland Public Schools wasn't vigilant about communicating and enforcing the standard.
Twice, Regina Sackrider drank alcohol while on school field trips, first on an overnight stay and later when she ordered a drink with a meal. She didn't appear drunk and no one got hurt, state discipline records indicate. Both times she wasn't the only adult drinking. Portland Public Schools officials didn't feel the conduct merited action, but the state agency that licenses educators did after an investigator discovered the drinking while looking into an unrelated matter.
The ensuing investigation found her guilty of unprofessional conduct. State regulators put her on probation for two years, but also granted her a little-known mercy: Her misconduct would stay secret.
Since 2009, regulators have had the ability to punish educators in private as a way to give them a conditional second chance. This is done through an informal letter that goes only to the educator and the educator's employer.
This method keeps secret from the public not only the conduct of the educator, but the actions of the educator's bosses. For example, the secret Teacher Standards and Practices documents that The Oregonian/OregonLive obtained detail not only Sackrider's mistakes but also reference "a lack of training and policy conformation on the part of the school district.
School board asks judge to hold Sun Sentinel in contempt over school-shooter report
The Broward County School Board on Monday asked a judge to hold the South Florida Sun Sentinel and two of its reporters in contempt of court over the publication of a report about the Parkland shooter’s years within the school system.
The School Board alleges the newspaper intentionally published information it knew a judge had ordered to be redacted.
After a judge’s order, the school district publicly released the report Friday with nearly two-thirds of its content blacked out to protect 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz’s privacy rights. But the district used a method that failed: Anyone could copy and paste the blacked-out report into a Word document to make all the text visible.
Sun Sentinel reporters Brittany Wallman and Paula McMahon, acting on a Facebook tip from a reader at 7:30 p.m., discovered on deadline the concealed text could be viewed. The reporters quickly rewrote the story reflecting the entire report, providing the first detailed account about the school shooter’s years in the school system, what the district knew about him and what mistakes were made.
The court filing alleges the Sun Sentinel knew what information was supposed to remain confidential because it had attended court hearings about the release of the report and agreed that certain material could not legally be disclosed.
Virginia pharmacy board member ousted over protest access
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ousted a Virginia Board of Pharmacy member and civic activist accused of using her credentials to access a closed site near the Mountain Valley Pipeline route.
The Roanoke Times obtained April emails through a Freedom of Information Act in which Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson told Freeda Cathcart she was dismissed from the board for misconduct. But Cathcart said Tuesday that she told Forest Service officials she was a volunteer and only used her state ID to identify herself April 9.
She said state officials didn't hear her side of the story before removing her.
She was arrested the day of her visit for violating a closure order, and pleaded guilty to the petty offense July 23. She was fined $150.
Report: Mississippi city broke law in closed garbage talks
NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A hearing officer says a southwest Mississippi city government violated the state's open meetings law in reviewing potential garbage collection contracts behind closed doors.
The finding against the Natchez mayor and aldermen was released Friday.
The board could face a $500 fine for the violation, but lawyer Leonard Van Slyke tells The Natchez Democrat that such fines are rare on first offense. The decision is scheduled to be made Sept. 26 by the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
The closed meeting brought complaints from the newspaper, the Mississippi Justice Institute and local residents.
The contract increases garbage collection prices by 25 percent.
The report notes citizens should be able to attend meetings and observe everything.
Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell says he didn't intend to break the law and will comply going forward.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION, FIRST AMENDMENT • Aug. 2, 2018