Transparency News 10/10/18



October 10, 2018


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state & local news stories


Here is the corrected link for VCOG's FOIA opinions archive.

Boy do I feel silly. The link I shared for our opinions archive was incorrect. This is the right one. Apologies! 
VCOG opinions archive

Bristol Virginia City Council now plans to remove Doug Fleenor from its ranks next Monday, barring court intervention. City Manager Randy Eads confirmed Monday that council plans to schedule a called meeting Monday to review the case and vote to oust Fleenor, who was elected in 2016. The meeting was originally scheduled Sept. 10, but it was cancelled after Fleenor filed a lawsuit claiming the city charter doesn’t give council the authority to take such action. That lawsuit still hasn’t been heard. Asked if the hearing will occur in public or behind closed doors, Eads said that will be up to Fleenor.
Bristol Herald Courier
The attorney for embattled Bristol Virginia City Councilman Doug Fleenor plans to seek an injunction to stop the city from removing his client, which is expected to be the first order of business for newly designated Judge David Melesco. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Virginia designated Melesco, of Rocky Mount, to hear the lawsuit filed by Fleenor against the other City Council members. Other judges in the 28th Circuit refused to hear the case because Fleenor is a practicing attorney. A hearing in the case is set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Bristol Virginia Circuit Court.
Bristol Herald Courier

Paying big bucks for studies that offer insight into city renovation projects is what cities do. Danville is no exception, shows a Register & Bee review of the city’s spending on consultants in recent years. Danville has spent nearly $2 million in the last five years on consultants and other contracts with firms conducting dozens of studies on renovation projects, some of them coming to fruition and others being shelved. But experts note the question to ask is not how much money has been spent on how many studies. The correct question to ponder, they explained, is why is there a need to hire consultants in the first place? According to figures the Register & Bee obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the city has spent $1.78 million on about 30 studies and consultants since 2013. Larking said all of the studies and consultants have yielded some sort of value except one — the roughly $210,325 spent between 2013 and 2015 for Blue Water Growth to help recruit businesses from China.
Register & Bee

A statewide study of addresses has turned up more than 33,555 homes that were not included in the 2010 Census, according to officials at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. On Tuesday, the center released results of its review of addresses in 74 of Virginia’s 95 counties and 27 of 38 independent cities.The Census Bureau provided the Cooper Center with an address list, an address count by census block and computerized files. Researchers used those files and community-generated E-911 addresses to compile the address lists.
The Daily Progress

Two months into its existence, the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board continued discussions about its mission statement, creating bylaws and how to use funding at a Tuesday meeting. Among the board’s concerns are the inability to access complaints made to the police department. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, concerns were raised about the Charlottesville Police Department’s inability to provide stop-and-frisk data.
The Daily Progress

Lynchburg City Council voted Tuesday to table a final decision on the approval of the Downtown 2040 Master Plan, which has been in development for about a year, and move additional discussions to a future work session. The vote came after hearing comments from more than two dozen citizens about the plans and some contentious discussion between council members. Four [council members] said they wanted to absorb residents’ comments and asked for additional information from staff such as an implementation timeline, more details about loading zone enforcement, and plans for future downtown construction projects. But Mayor Treney Tweedy said, “I don’t want to delay a plan because not everyone feels their voice has been heard over a year."
The News & Advance


national stories of interest

Manspreading, facial recognition technology, missing guns, contract specifications and accidents and incidents of all kinds — these were just some of the topics that became the subject of public document requests Metro received last year. Those who made requests were almost as varied: accident victims, crime victims, attorneys, journalists, contractors, union members, a whistleblower and even a Metro gadfly identified only by his Twitter handle. These folks were seeking access to public records through a process that resembles Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, right down to a maddening list of permissible exemptions that allow the transit agency to withhold several categories of information. At the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the process of obtaining public information is done through its Public Access to Records Policy, otherwise known as PARP.
The Washington Post




editorials & columns


"What Wheeler did not mention, however, was that the same law allows the records’ custodian to release such information at his or her discretion."

In 2009 an in-depth newspaper investigation revealed a state-sanctioned “secret” escrow account involving gas royalties for property owners in Southwest Virginia. Reporting about this hidden cache of funds resulted in a federal class-action lawsuit, and later legislation passed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, resulting in millions of dollars being distributed to deserving land owners in our region. Another investigation this past year exposed the horrible consequences associated with the opioid crisis and the specific impacts on babies, the most vulnerable among us. This extraordinary series led to heightened awareness and collaborative work to seek solutions, including the introduction of legislation in both Tennessee and Virginia. These are just two examples from one community newspaper, the Bristol Herald Courier, documenting and exposing information citizens need to know. But it’s not just the investigative pieces that seek to right a wrong or to educate. Community journalism chronicles everyday news events, providing a record of our community’s history. Community journalism is reporting about crime, taxes, education, infrastructure and the achievements of children and adults. It’s reporting and telling stories about people, the folks we stand beside in line at the grocery store and sit beside at church.
Bristol Herald Courier

City of Charlottesville spokesman Brian Wheeler said Monday that former Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas will continue to receive his salary until July 15, 2018. As a public entity, the City is paying Thomas with taxpayer money — yet the public is currently not privy to the reasoning behind such payment. Wheeler declined to provide the contract itself, citing Virginia law that protects personnel decisions and disciplinary actions. What Wheeler did not mention, however, was that the same law allows the records’ custodian to release such information at his or her discretion. The Charlottesville City Council has a responsibility to release this contract and any additional information relevant to Thomas’ continued payment, in an effort to be transparent with the Charlottesville community.
The Cavalier Daily