Sunshine Report for October 2018

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
The Sunshine Report
October 2018
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VCOG: Why you need us,
and why we need you
No matter where you fall along the political or partisan spectrum, it can be stated with a fair amount of certainty that we haven’t seen this much attention to government and politics in quite some time.

The primaries and general elections at the local, state and national level have attracted scores of new candidates and voters.

From all quarters, we are hearing about accountability and transparency, about facts, news and truth.

It’s been ugly, for sure. Many dollars and cents have been thrown at candidates, PACs and parties, all in hopes of getting Candidate X elected, or in defeating Candidate Y. Many will be disappointed in the results, and all that money will find itself on Nov. 7 in the form of mailers in the household recycle, yard signs in the garbage can and email blasts in the deleted folder.

And now that your dis/favored candidate has won, don’t you want to keep an eye on the job he or she is doing?

I may be biased (nah, I AM biased), but to me, the obvious “answer” to all of this craziness is access to public records and support for organizations that strive to protect that access......

Continue reading about holding government accountable past election day.
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The Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship
VCOG is currently seeking applications for its Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship. Now in its fifth year, the Woodrum Internship introduces college juniors and seniors to the legislative process by shadowing VCOG's executive director and arranging one-on-one interactions with lobbyists, advocates, legislators, legislative staff and General Assembly operations.

Contact Megan Rhyne for more details and to apply.         
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Open government
in the news
A detailed review of 400 state government websites across the country found that nearly all of them are deficient in some foundational functionalities, including load speeds, mobile readiness, security and accessibility. But one website scored a perfect grade: The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' website for licenses and access permits. Virginia topped the rankings overall, with Virginia's business registrations and vital statistics receiving special mention, too.

The town of Dumfries met in closed session to strip the vice mayor of his title. When the council returned to open session, the mayor said he could not comment on the matter since it was discussed in closed session, but he did say the action was unanimous. He went on to praise the council for its public agreement.

A Virginia Board of Pharmacy committee met behind closed doors for nearly 30 minutes to decide that review of the 51 applications to receive one of the first five medical marijuana licenses would be kept confidential.

The town of Leesburg refused to go into closed session, as requested by the Virginia Department of Transportation, to discuss an alternate design for a local traffic interchange. Council members noted the months-long process to achieve agreement on the existing plan versus learning about a new plan in closed session and not being able to talk about it publicly.

Attorney General Mark Herring recently updated the lawsuit his office has filed against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. The original complaint was filed under seal because of a preexisting confidentiality agreement, but the parties have since agreed to unseal the complaint.

The Roanoke City Council is considering once again asking the General Assembly to pass legislation to permit localities to ban guns from city hall during city council meetings.

The Henrico School Board chose to discuss and weed out eight of the 11 applicants for a vacant seat on the board in closed session. The three were to be interviewed in closed session before the board decided how many of the three would advance to a final public hearing. The names were not released.

The recently ousted director of the Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services petitioned a circuit court for an injunction against the county board of supervisors, the county administrator and the county attorney over alleged violations of FOIA's meetings and records provisions.

Prompted in part by the above petition, the Register & Bee did a story on when and why governments file FOIA requests against each other. Michelle Gowdy of the Virginia Municipal League and VCOG's Megan Rhyne agreed that such requests are not inherently adversarial but can alter the tone of the interactions.

A registered sex offender recently settled his lawsuit over a no-trespassing notice that effectively prohibited him from attending Stafford County School Board meetings.

Charlottesville met in closed session to discuss how it would pick a search firm to find a permanent city manager. The city sai it chose a closed session because an open discussion would adversely affect its bargaining position or negotiating strategy.

The minutes of several July meetings of the Charlottesville City Council appeared to indicate that members were phoning into meetings and voting on closed meeting motions even though the city had not yet adopted a policy allowing remote participation.

The Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board continues to flesh out the its bylaws and operating procedures, including whether complaints made to the board could be kept confidential.

The Amherst County School Board elected to hold public interviews of the applicants to fill a vacant seat on the board.

For the second time, a Christiansburg man's FOIA lawsuit against the town and its mayor was dismissed as deficient. Months ago, a judge said Chris Waltz's claim that notice of a meeting was defective should be dismissed because he attended the meeting. In September, the judge threw the case out again because Waltz's petition did not indicate it was suing Mayor Mike Barber in his official capacity. Barber was represented at trial by the town attorney.

The Daily Press filed a motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit brought by the former director of the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport who claimed a story about his shredding of documents falsely implied that he was illegally destroying evidence. The newspaper argued its reporting was based on a public record: An audit conducted by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Virginia's State Board of Elections voted unanimously Thursday to seek the removal of two court-appointed Hopewell elections officials. After one official denied having seen a proposed ballot that later came under fire, the board played a video of a meeting shot by a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter that showed the Hopewell board discussing the ballot.

The Intercept online news magazine discovered that despite using George Mason University in its names and having email addresses, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is not a public body subject to Virginia's FOIA. The research center, which has some GMU professors on staff, says it is entirely funded by private donations and does not perform a government function.

The Lynchburg City Council held interviews for the two finalists for the chief of police position in a public meeting.

The Bristol City Council's attempt to remove a council member from his seat continued last month. Doug Fleenor's attorney said in a court filing that the city had no authority to remove him, while the city says the charter allows the action. Neither side will disclose the letter served on Fleenor advising him of the removal attempt and allegedly accusing him of malfeasance in office.

VCOG will hold a FOIA and records management training webinar on Nov. 13.

Click here for details and registration.
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FOI awards

VCOG is seeking nominations for its annual FOI awards.

Click here for more.

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VCOG luanches 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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VCOG is participating in the AmazonSmile program, where Amazon donates .5% of your order total to the charitable organization of your choice.

Click here to select VCOG as your AmazonSmile charity.
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Save the date

November 27
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VCOG is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. TIN 54-1810687
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