Transparency News, 10/1/21


October 1, 2021
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state & local news stories

A new report from Virginia’s watchdog agency suggests limiting the Virginia Charitable Gaming Board’s regulatory powers after concluding the board’s chairman failed to properly recuse himself from writing rules for Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournaments he stood to benefit from. The 59-page report, delivered to legislators and Gov. The regulations written by the industry board, the report said, “damage the integrity of the charitable gaming program” by explicitly allowing conflicts of interest and minimizing the involvement of charities. “This appears to provide for the creation of poker halls in Virginia,” the Office of the Inspector General (OSIG) wrote, adding the “low level of involvement required by the charity” could make it difficult for regulators to track where poker profits are going. Chuck Lessin, a homebuilder now operating his own poker room at his Richmond sports bar and bingo hall, played a key role in the development of those regulations as chairman of the Charitable Gaming Board. He disclosed his personal interest in the outcome, but state investigators say that wasn’t enough and he should’ve recused himself entirely. “Board members not properly recusing themselves in accordance to both the code and their approved bylaws damages the integrity of the board and the overall commonwealth’s charitable gaming oversight,” the agency wrote. In a written response to the Mercury, Lessin called the watchdog report “BS” and “outrageous.” He said OSIG wasn’t instructed to do a deep dive into the poker regulations and insisted he was not legally required to recuse himself.
Virginia Mercury

A Pittsylvania County supervisor retaliated against the county’s former social services director after she gave a First Amendment-protected speech at a state board meeting, a jury concluded Thursday in federal court in Roanoke. On the final day of a three-day civil trial, the seven-member jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Sherry Flanagan, who was the director of the Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services until she was fired in August 2018. County supervisor Ron Scearce was the sole defendant. Fifteen days before the local social services board voted to fire Flanagan in 2018, she gave a speech to the state board of social services in Richmond. In the speech, she told the public about the growing community sentiment against the local department and the effects that had on her workers and their mission. At the time, Scearce was also a member of the local board of social services, which oversaw Flanagan and her agency. He and three other board members voted to terminate Flanagan two weeks after her speech.
The Roanoke Times

Mayor Billy Coleburn says the town was told that the roughly  5,700 Afghan refugees being brought to its military base, Fort Pickett, would only be there temporarily. Now, they’ve been there for six weeks. And, despite the stir their presence has caused, very few have seen them.  “What’s happening is, the week before they arrived, (Democratic U.S. Senator) Mark Warner was here and said, ‘It’ll be 3-5 days.’ He was making a campaign stop, and he said, without prodding from the audience, he said this will be only a way station, you’re not going to have a long-standing settlement.” Coleburn paused. “Of course he was using information coming from above him.” Most people in town understand, according to Coleburn; while there are some who distrust or just don’t like the evacuees, far more people simply feel sorry for them, and believe that the government needs to be more forthright about what’s going on
Cardinal News

At Tuesday’s special meeting, members of the Luray Council continued to discuss plans for an informal public meeting to solicit ideas and feedback from the community from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 at Ruffner Plaza. “I think we need to make it as comfortable and informal as possible,” Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer told the council. Town officials plan to cook up about 200 hot dogs and offer free food and drinks as they sit back and listen to anything their constituents want to share — from praise or complaints about their actions, to ideas on how to spend more than $4 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds. “I think it shows the public that we’re open,” Councilman Ron Vickers said during Monday’s meeting.
Page Valley News

Confrontations over masks, vaccines and how race is taught in schools have many school board members across the U.S. worried for their safety. Mobs are yelling obscenities and throwing objects. In one district, a protester brandished a flagpole against a school board official. Other cases have included a protester yelling a Nazi salute, arrests for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct, and numerous death threats against public officials. School board meetings, usually one of the most mundane examples of local democracy in action, have exploded with vitriol across the country in recent months, and school leaders are scared. That's according to a letter that the National School Boards Association sent this week to President Biden. It's asking for help from federal law enforcement, including the Justice, Education and Homeland Security departments as well as the FBI. The association mentioned a chaotic school board meeting in Loudoun County, Va., in which one person was arrested and another was injured.