Connecting state and local government leaders

Stingray Redactions Sting Tacoma; N.Y. State Worker’s 3,312 Hours of Overtime

The Port of Tacoma, Washington

The Port of Tacoma, Washington Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Weekend Digest: Santa Fe weighs soda tax; major scrutiny for Oklahoma Dept. of Veterans Affairs; and South Carolina faces major pothole lawsuit.

TRANSPARENCY | A judge in Pierce County, Washington, ruled Friday that the city of Tacoma must pay a $50,000 fine and legal fees for violating the state’s Public Records Act when it redacted most of a non-disclosure agreement connected to a cellphone surveillance system called Stingray. The Center for Open Policing sued Tacoma for blacking out large sections of the non-disclosure agreement, which the organization had sought through a public records request. The city said the redactions were done at the behest of the FBI, which requires to keep Stingray agreements with law enforcement secret. [The News Tribune]

The California State Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that texts and emails of public employees that pertain to official business and sent from personal devices are public records. Thursday’s ruling was hailed by open government advocates and media organizations, but local governments have said the ruling opens them up to broad requests that will be costly to respond to and may invade the privacy of employees. [Los Angeles Times]

PUBLIC HEALTH | Members Santa Fe’s City Council are gearing up for a contentious vote on Wednesday regarding whether to have voters in New Mexico’s capital city decide whether there should be a tax on sugary drinks. The proposal, supported by Mayor Javier Gonzales, would help pay for early childhood education programs in the city. [Santa Fe New Mexican]

The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is facing major scrutiny over a series of failures, staffing problems and accusations of cutting corners that negatively impact patient care at a veterans nursing home in Talihina. ODVA health care workers say that “one-size-fits-all, top-down medical directives and policy changes” are driving out dedicated employees and endangering patient care in the process. “The system is sick and it starts from the top down,” said one high-ranking staffer. [Tulsa World]

WORKFORCE | Due to a “confluence of circumstances,” a New York state information technician earned 3,312 hours of overtime pay in 2016. The technician in the Office of Information Technology Services had a lot of extra work to do because of the state shifting a 24/7 computer help desk to a private call center run by IBM. But stipulations in union contracts, including triggering overtime pay after working 40 hours in a week and rules that allow workers to take a vacation day but also work additional hours on the same day, contributed too. [WGRZ-TV]

ENVIRONMENT | President Trump’s plans to build a continuous border wall between the United States and Mexico is raising concerns about disruptions to wildlife movements and trans-border ecosystems. Federal authorities have spent little money on research to study potential impacts of a border wall on wildlife. In Texas, the Rio Grande Valley is a very biodiverse area and is home to endangered species, including the ocelot, a wild cat that is drawn to one of the few remaining tracts of sabal palm forest in the United States. [Texas Tribune]

INFRASTRUCTURE | A South Carolina woman is suing the state over a pothole that she says contributed to a crash that led to her husband’s death. While lawsuits against state transportation departments are not uncommon when it comes to damage to cars, in South Carolina, the state’s Insurance Reserve Fund has paid out large settlements for cases involving deaths and injuries that have totaled millions of dollars in recent years. [The Greenville News via The State]

BUDGET PLANNING | The city manager in Minot, North Dakota, is worried that the local government is drawing too much from cash reserves to balance the budget. “There’s a lot of money being spent out of our reserves to balance the budget. That’s a huge problem because that’s not sustainable,” according to City Manager Tom Barry. While Minot’s budget situation is not “gloom and doom” just yet, Mayor Chuck Barney said the City Council is looking to make adjustments. [Minot Daily News]