Transparency News, 10/11/21


October 11, 2021
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state & local news stories

A Virginia school board is suing two mothers, arguing that documents "inadvertently and mistakenly" released through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared online included confidential information. The Goldwater Institute on Thursday filed a motion with a Virginia judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Fairfax County School Board against Debra Tisler, who obtained documents from the board through a Freedom of Information Act request, and Callie Oettinger, who shared the redacted documents on her website. According to the Goldwater Institute, the school board handed Tisler more than 1,000 pages of receipts from its law firm related to the superintendent, the board and investigations into the district’s cyber hacking incident last year and its virtual learning program. According to the board’s lawsuit, four days after the documents were released to Tisler, district officials learned that "identifiable student and personnel information" had been "inadvertently and mistakenly" released to Tisler without receiving a "second-level review by counsel." The board sued Tisler on Sept. 27 after she refused its multiple requests to return the digital documents, the lawsuit states. Oettinger, who published some of the documents on her website,, is named in the lawsuit after refusing to delete them from the website, the board said. Last week, a state judge issued an order barring the women from sharing the documents pending further order of the court, and Oettinger subsequently took the documents off her website. The Goldwater Institute on Thursday filed papers asking the judge to withdraw that order and dismiss the case immediately.
Fox News
Fairfax Circuit Judge David Oblon issued an order requiring two Fairfax County residents to stop the dissemination of Fairfax County Public Schools’ legal billing invoices obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The invoices contain varying information, from an investigation into Blackboard to matters pertaining to FCPS staff. Each invoice includes the date of service, the timekeeper, a description of the services, and the billable hours.   One invoice, entitled “Investigation into cyber incident” contains a description dated for service Oct. 19, 2020. The description for the billable hours states: “Call with Mr. Foster regarding Board FAQs; call with Mr. Foster and Beth Waller regarding notification strategy; revise letter to employees and applicants; emails regarding FOIA; emails and call with Holly Brady regarding analyzing student files and data of the 26 individuals.”
Fairfax Times

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s first-ever attempt to draw fair political maps collapsed in spectacular fashion Friday, when frustrated Democrats walked out of a meeting after Republicans rebuffed their suggestions for reaching a compromise. Republicans said they objected to working with the Democratic-drawn Senate proposal because it was only unveiled Friday morning, after a week’s worth of public hearings where citizens were unable to see it. The commission convened at 9 a.m. Friday. The meeting’s abrupt end came at around 2:45 p.m., leaving the remaining commissioners at a loss for what to do. The remaining commissioners were told they probably should not continue to conduct business without a quorum. Republican co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko opined aloud that she alone could perhaps call another meeting without Harris, her partner in coordinating the commission’s work. “Whether we will have a quorum at that time, that remains to be seen,” she said. Republicans said they objected to working with the Democratic-drawn Senate proposal because it was only unveiled Friday morning, after a week’s worth of public hearings where citizens were unable to see it.
Virginia Mercury

What before the pandemic was an often overlooked part of civic life is back at the forefront of the culture wars: Fights over reopening turned into fights over masks and vaccines, all of that happening simultaneously to districts and boards’ embrace of efforts to make schools more equitable places after George Floyd’s murder. The vitriol reached a fever pitch this summer across the country and in Hampton Roads, where police have investigated threats to shoot Virginia Beach School Board members before ultimately determining it to be “posturing.” People have screamed at board members that they were going to hell, and several meetings have been gaveled into recess after speakers either screamed profanities or made profane gestures.
The Virginian-Pilot

Steve Hardie Anderson, a retired Virginia tax compliance supervisor who was charged in May with embezzling public funds, died by suicide on Friday. His passing came on the same day Anderson was due to appear for a Friday morning hearing in Richmond City Circuit Court to review the status of his criminal prosecution on two felony charges, for embezzling public funds and computer trespass. A Richmond grand jury indicted Anderson in May, following an internal probe by the tax department and a subsequent investigation by the Office of State Inspector General (OSIG). The alleged theft of public funds, according to OSIG, was tied to two tax department employees who are said to have granted Anderson access to tax department computer systems and “confidential taxpayer accounts.” OSIG said its years-long investigation turned up evidence that some $1.3 million in public funds had been embezzled by Anderson. In a statement issued in June, OSIG said Anderson had repaid about $250,000 of the stolen funds.
News & Record