Sustained Outrage

Secret meetings, June 26, 2009

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Today’s issue of the State Register has two meetings listed that did not comply with the public notice requirements of the West Virginia open meetings law.

The agencies at fault?

— The West Virginia Board of Optometry, for a meeting that started at 8 a.m. today.

–  The Water Development Authority, for a meeting on Monday.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Secret meetings, June 19, 2009

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Today’s edition of the State Register contains two government meetings that are marked as violating the legal requirement that they appear in the register five days prior to the meeting.

One is a meeting of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board’s Military Service Committee. The other is a meeting of the Mid-Ohio Valley Emergency Medical Services Board.

But, both meetings are scheduled for July 23. So, given that the Register was actually published on Thursday this week — because state government is closed for West Virginia Day (which is actually Saturday, but state employees have today off)  –  I wonder if these meetings don’t technically comply with the five day notice requirment.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

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jay-rockefeller.jpgSen. Jay Rockefeller wants to stop chemical companies from doing what Bayer CropScience admitted it did: Trying to hide behind anti-terrorism rules to avoid talking about chemical plant safety problems.

The West Virginia Democrat has introduced legislation that he says would close any potential loopholes in Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration rules that determine when the release of certain information to the public would impact the security of transportation. Rockefeller’s press office said the bill makes clear that the Sensitive Security Information classification cannot be used to withhold information that is not explicitly covered in its statutes.

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DEP Secrecy II: Protecting PPG

I wrote last week about how the state Department of Environmental Protection didn’t want to give me a copy of the “plan” submitted by PPG Industries for fixing mercury water pollution violations at the company’s Marshall County plant.

raymondfranks1.JPGWell, yesterday, I got a response back from DEP General Counsel Ray Franks (left) to my formal request for that document …  so I thought I would share it with readers. I’ve posted the response letter here.

By way of background, remember that this “plan” was enough to convince DEP Secretary Randy Huffman to file a friendly lawsuit against PPG, to help the company fend off a troublesome legal effort by some pesky environmental groups to force the company to follow the Clean Water Act. It was only the latest in a long line of efforts by DEP to help PPG delay major reductions in the mercury emissions from the Natrium facility.

But when I asked DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco for a copy of this great plan, she told me:

… Is a working document that the agency is using in the deliberative process of negotiating a settlement agreement with the company. Therefore, at this time it is not a document that we can share, even in response to a FOIA request.

I expected that, because DEP enforcement chief Mike Zeto loves to pretend that every single piece of paper in his office that might have some vague bit to do with “enforcement proceedings” is off-limits to the public.

But apparently Franks was starting to understand that Zeto’s on shaky ground, because his response to my request indicates he’s cooked up some other excuse not to tell the public what PPG’s plan is …

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Today’s edition of the State Register contained only one meeting that didn’t comply with the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

The prize goes to the state Division of Forestry, for a meeting of its Urban and Community Forest Council. The meeting was June 10, but the notice didn’t appear until today.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Charleston City Council‘s 27 members (if you count Mayor Danny Jones) gather Monday, June 15, for their bimonthly meeting.

Lots of items on the agenda. One bill coming out of the Urban Renewal Committee would allow bed and breakfast establishments in single-family residential neighborhoods, like the Proposed Carriage Trail Bed & Breakfast on Bridge Roadproposed Carriage Trail Bed & Breakfast on Bridge Road (pictured). In fact, the bill was introduced specifically for this project, although it applies to all B&Bs in R-2 and R-4 districts.

Unfortunately (for the owners), Mark and Marta Snapp failed to obtain a conditional use permit they need from the Board of Zoning Appeals on Thursday, as I wrote about, so the bill is sort of moot for now. The Snapps vow to push on, however.

Just about all of the other business before council will be weighed earlier by members of the Finance Committee, and generally any debate takes place in Finance, not City Council. So you may want to show up for this 6:15 p.m. meeting.

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Secret meetings, June 5, 2009

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Today’s issue of the State Register contains only two meetings that didn’t comply with the notice requirements of the West Virginia open meetings law.

One was the regular monthly meeting of the Corridor G Regional Development Authority. The meeting was on Wednesday, but the public notice didn’t appear until today.

The other was a meeting of the Public Defender Corp. 23rd Judicial Circuit, set for next Wednesday.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

WVDEP secrecy

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West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has told me many times that he doesn’t want reporters to file Freedom of Information Act requests. It’s not necessary, the governor says. We’re running an open government. If you want something, just call, and we’ll give it to you.

Sometimes, in the daily grind of trying to get information for the Gazette’s readers, I wonder if some of Manchin’s agencies didn’t get the memo …

Take the state Department of Environmental Protection. Don’t get me wrong, DEP releases lots of information. They’ve got tons of it on their Web site. And I’ve generally found that most folks at the agency are proud of the work they do and are happy to talk about it and share information with the press and the public.

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Secret meetings, May 29, 2009

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Today’s edition of the State Register lists three meeting notices that violate the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act.

All three are meetings of the same agency: The W.Va. Public Port Authority, and agency that has run into problems before complying with open meeting and public information laws. During the controversy a few years back over the authority’s efforts to build a new regional airport, the agency lost or settled lawsuits that alleged it violated both public access laws.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterick in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Charleston City Council meets Monday evening, June 1, to consider another two weeks’ worth of city business.

But for a better glimpse behind the scenes, come to the meeting of council’s Finance Committee immediately beforehand. Most of the items on the agenda for City Council are money-related, and will be taken up first by Finance. Typically, any debate on these issues will take place at the Finance meeting, not City Council.

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