Transparency News, 10/1/20


 October 1, 2020
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state & local news stories
With most in-person court hearings on hold because of the virus emergency, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia publishes phone numbers and access codes for listening to the video conferences of each of its 10 judges. The system was set up to ensure that the public has access to the courts during the pandemic. Federal courts in other parts of the country, including Virginia’s eastern half, have similar access systems. During normal times, courtrooms are open to spectators who wish to watch trials, sentencings and pre-trial proceedings live. But these days, court has shifted to largely videoconferencing. Although case participants have an audio-video link, the public gets access only to sound. There is no charge, nor is registration required. The phone system places callers in a listen-only mode; they can’t be heard by the parties holding court, nor are they required to introduce themselves or say anything. Judges will sometimes remark when they see the public line activated and remind the parties that the public has a right to attend.
The Roanoke Times

Surry County received only one proposal during the 30-day window for museums and organizations to express interest in taking the county’s Confederate monument. On Sept. 11, four days prior to the deadline, a Hampton Roads chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans offered to pay Surry County up to $3,000 to take ownership of the monument, which the group plans to re-erect on private property located off Mount Ivy Lane, a little over a mile from Chippokes Plantation State Park. The group has further agreed to foot the bill for the equipment and manpower needed to move the monument. Surry County Administrator Melissa Rollins was initially reluctant to share details on how many proposals the county had received to take the monument, and from whom, telling the paper last week that the information was “not available at this time.” The Smithfield Times was able to obtain a copy of the lone proposal on Monday via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Smithfield Times

You no doubt have heard that in order to vote in this year’s election in Virginia you will need to present an ID. Actually, that is not exactly the case. Although the Virginia Board of Elections states that you need a “qualifying ID,” some voters have learned the definition of the term includes being able to vote with no ID at all — as long as you have voted previously in Virginia. “Under the new laws — you need absolutely no ID to vote, not even a utility statement,” said Tim Anderson, a Virginia Beach-based lawyer. “You are allowed to go in and ‘declare’ who you are. All you need is the name and address of the voter.” Responding to a Freedom of Information Request, Virginia Beach Registrar Donna Patterson confirmed Anderson was one of 13 voters who chose to complete an ID Confirmation Statement instead of presenting a qualifying ID in the first four days of in-person voting in her office. The Virginia Department of Elections states all voters are required to “provide an acceptable form of identification at the polls,” but they also say “voters arriving at the polls without an acceptable form of ID will be required to either sign an ID Confirmation Statement or vote a provisional ballot.” 
Martinsville Bulletin

As schools in the Washington area inch toward reopening, a question looms: whether and how school districts will report coronavirus cases among students and staff. Reporting policies vary district-to-district across D.C., Maryland and Virginia, but many school systems in the region are opting to stay mostly mum. Some school officials say they are not tracking or publishing data on school-related virus cases — only notifying people who may have come into contact with infected individuals. This can make it hard to discover whether a school system has suffered an outbreak. When an employee in Montgomery County Public Schools’ central office recently tested positive for the virus, news of the case trickled out informally. Spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala confirmed it Wednesday, saying she could not release more details due to medical confidentiality but anyone potentially exposed was notified and the superintendent and school board had been informed. But there are a few bright spots: Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, for example, sends schoolwide emails whenever a student or employee case emerges, as well as blasting an alert to local media outlets. The school system of 82,000 has followed this policy ever since campuses shut down in March, even though Loudoun students are pursuing remote learning this fall and do not physically set foot in school buildings.
The Washington Post

Suffolk's city manager turned in his resignation Monday, after about five years on the job. City council accepted Patrick Roberts' resignation during a closed meeting Monday afternoon.  Afterward, council members unanimously voted to have interim deputy city manager Al Moor become the interim city manager. The reason for Roberts' decision to leave his position was not released.
stories of national interest
A judge has granted Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's request for more time to release a grand jury recording in the Breonna Taylor case. The new deadline to release the recording is this Friday at noon ET, Jefferson Circuit Judge Ann Bailey Smith said in a court order on Wednesday. The order said the defense counsel had no objection to the request. A motion filed by Cameron's office asked the court for more time in order to redact witnesses' personal information. That task is complicated by the recording's size: It's more than 20 hours long, the attorney general's office says. The two extra days granted by the court is shorter than the week Cameron's office had been seeking, NPR member station WFPL notes.