Sunshine Report for March 2019

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
The Sunshine Report
March 2019
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General Assembly wraps up; good FOIA bills await governor's signature
Though the fate of many bills rests in the governor's pen -- and any subsequent vote to override a possible veto -- for all intents and purposes, the 2019 General Assembly session came to an end February 24.

VCOG started off the session tracking 75 bills that would have some impact on the Freedom of Information Act or on other aspects of public access to government records and meetings.

In the end, through many twists and turns, 29 of those made it all the way to the end, including a couple that are identical, or almost so, to each other. 

The public's right to know got a real boost from four bills (one with a duplicate) in particular, including . . . . 

Continue reading the wrap-up on VCOG's website.

And, review our updated bill chart.
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A murky school budget process in Richmond
First, the Richmond Public School board met in closed session to talk about parts of the proposed budget. They said their discussion about personnel funding would touch on individuals. Next, a motion to postpone a vote on the final budget was set to fail when one of the members unexpectedly voted for the motion. The member was phoning in to the Tuesday night meeting from Dubai, where it was Wednesday morning, and said she misunderstood what she was voting on. Then, the board finally did vote, on Feb. 26, to approve the budget, but without disclosing a full copy of the budget to the public. The board provided a 31-page budget summary but told a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter to file a FOIA request to receive the complete 228-page budget.

Public outcry was loud and swift, despite the superintendent and some board members claiming that they did not want to release the full budget until they could talk one-on-one with the employees whose jobs were going to be cut. By late Wednesday afternoon, the board relented, releasing a full copy and scheduling a public meeting to take questions on the budget from staff and the public.
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Open government
in the news
Documents obtained under FOIA by the Register & Bee revealed exchanges between the Pittsylvania County administrator, the county attorney and two board members that the administrator was concerned that his family’s financial relationship with a board member-owned company “has potentially infiltrated” his job.

The City of Richmond declined to disclose any of the records related to the settlement of an employment dispute between it and an economic development deputy. The city paid the employe nearly $39,000 in severance but the separation agreement was withheld as a personnel record.

The Eastern Virginia Medical School vowed to make public any report to come out of its investigation of how its student yearbooks came to contain multiple images of students in blackface.

The Commonwealth's Attorney for Rappahannock County penned a letter to Sen. Mark Obenshain in response to the senator's legislative proposal to require regular training for local elected officials on the Conflicts of Interest Act. The legislation also had a provision that was later struck that would have prohibited a CA from also being a city, county or town attorney. The CA said the legislation was being pushed by a "little group of citizens" engaged in "dirty politics" and angry about his representation of the county board of supervisors in a FOIA lawsuit.

The only notice the Mathews County Board of Supervisors gave of a meeting where they voted to terminate the county attorney's employment was when one supervisor dropped a statement about the meeting off at the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal on his way to the meeting.

The Front Royal Town Council did not go into closed session to discuss litigation that might arise out of its decision to deny the Virginia Beer Museum an exemption from certain off-street parking requirements. The motion required unanimous consent, but one member held out, saying he wouldn't be "bullied into flipping my vote" on the parking matter.

After it was revealed that the Norfolk sheriff has been working with federal authorities to detain suspected illegal immigrants, Mayor Kenny Anderson said that none of the city council members asked to have a discussion about it. Instead, some members spoke privately with the sheriff and each other.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors held a closed session to discuss when to set a special election to fill a seat left open upon the death of a supervisor.

Despite ranking first, according to a member of the Appomattox Board of Supervisors, in terms of "tension and emotional feelings" among citizens, only one supervisor was willing to explain his vote for or against a proposed trash transfer development project.

Danville City Council’s vote to establish its land-bank entity was not legal because it did not advertise and hold a public hearing before voting on the matter. The city manager informed the Register & Bee of the error and said the city would go back and vote again on it after officially letting residents know about the agenda item and giving them a chance to speak out on it.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority declined to release the names of those applying to be appointed to the authority in the event the board of supervisors chooses not to reappoint two members whose terms expired at the end of February.

The Town of Vienna began posting audio recordings of both its regular meetings and work sessions. Recordings of planning commission and architectural review board meetings will also be recorded and posted.

Louisa County initiated a lawsuit against a citizen who the county says leaked information to his brother about a proposed industrial park development. The county says the man signed a non-disclosure agreement and that by sharing the information, owners of property the county wanted cut off negotiations.

Tension among members of the Norfolk Public Schools has grown so thick that three members called a special meeting to discuss their dysfunction that the other four members did not attend. One of those four was out of town, but three of them walked out of the regularly scheduled meeting immediately before the subsequent specially called meeting could begin. The board's chair ordered the board clerk to take notice of the special meeting off the district website and directed that the video feed of the earlier meeting be cut off before the special meeting could begin.
Sunshine Week is March 10-16


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Register today for VCOG's annual conference

VCOG's annual conference is APRIL 11 at Hampton University's Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

Take advantage of early-bird pricing through March 16.

Click here for details and tickets

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Like drinking from a fire hose

Read Megan Rhyne's take on the challenges of identifying and tracking legislation during Virginia's hectic General Assembly session.

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VCOG launches FOI Slack channel

VCOG is rolling out a Slack channel for Virginia FOIA. Read our guidelines and join. Share your FOIA requests or discuss such topics as open meetings, fees, enforcement and datasets.

Click here to read our guidelines and join our Slack channel.

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Supplies list

You know what's as valuable as your membership dues and donations? Office supplies! We've created a list of everyday office supplies (and a few wish-list items) on Amazon Smile. Next time you're shopping on, find VCOG's "charity list" and keep us rolling in paper and ink (and stamps, and file folders, and...).

Click here to select VCOG as your AmazonSmile charity.
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VCOG is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. TIN 54-1810687
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