Transparency News, 10/12/20


 October 12, 2020
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state & local news stories
"Virginia does not require the repeal of unlawful acts. Such laws can only become a problem if the government tries to enforce them."
The Speaker of Virginia's House of Delegates, Eileen Filler-Corn (D), was fined $500 Friday and told to pay attorney fees totaling nearly $2,000 after a Northern Virginia lawyer took her to court for denying his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The story goes back to July 23 when Filler-Corn had several statutes of Confederate leaders removed from the Old House chamber. David Webster, a lawyer in Northern Virginia, sent a FOIA request to the speaker, requesting more information about the removal, including the procurement process for hiring a company to do the job, and how much it cost. In a letter to Webster, the speaker said the records did not exist.

It’s unclear what Albemarle County intends to do with its ordinance waiving the state’s public records request deadlines after Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday said that such ordinances violate state law. Albemarle County Attorney Greg Kampter said in a Thursday email that he was reviewing the attorney general’s opinion and intended to “bring a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors on November 4.”  Attorney general opinions are not legally binding, but the carry considerable weight, said Ashley Taylor Jr., a former deputy attorney general for Virginia. Should a law be challenged in court, for example, a locality would face an uphill battle if its state’s attorney general had sided against them. Because of that, localities often follow their attorney general’s advice, Taylor said. That doesn’t necessarily mean a local government has to remove an ordinance or law that their attorney general deems unlawful — Virginia does not require the repeal of unlawful acts. Such laws can only become a problem if the government tries to enforce them.
Charlottesville Tomorrow

The executive director of a Virginia economic development commission bent rules to forgive a six-figure grant to a politically connected developer whose planned biofuel project didn’t pan out, documents obtained by The Associated Press show. The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission’s Evan Feinman did not recoup $210,000 Chuck Lessin owed the state, according to a report from the Office of the State Inspector General. Since the inception of the program, the commission has sought to recoup about $22.9 million through the places it’s meant to help, with about $1.6 million currently outstanding from 14 localities, records provided to AP in September show. The commission does not track how much of that money was effectively repaid by the developers or the locality, likely with taxpayer money. The program’s money is often doled after discussion that takes place out of public view — as was recently the case with a $4 million grant and $4 million loan approved for a code-named Project Red in Pittsylvania County — and AP’s reporting also raised questions about the commission’s bookkeeping.
Associated Press

A recent review of the Fifth District Republican congressional candidate’s financial disclosures reveal that during his four-year tenure on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, Bob Good failed to disclose his assets and liabilities in apparent violation . of Virginia ethics laws. Sections 2.2-3112 and 2.2-3115 of the Virginia code require all local and state officials to disclose personal offices and directorships, liabilities, securities, business interests, and real estate investments valued at over $5,000 in annual filings called Statements of Economic Interest (SEIs). Good filed SEIs from 2016 until his departure from the Campbell County Board of Supervisors in 2019. Congressional candidates are also required to file financial disclosures as a stipulation of their candidacy. A comparison of Good’s federal disclosure in 2020 with his state disclosure in 2019 shows conflicting information. In his three years of active service from 2016 to 2019, Good reported no personal debt or ownership of any securities.
Rappahannock News

Computer hackers who obtained information about a Virginia public school district’s students and employees have posted stolen data online, school officials said Friday in an email to parents and staff. The Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t specify the nature or volume of the data that was stolen in the ransomware attack last month. Hackers use ransomware software to steal data and threaten to publish or block access to it unless a target pays a ransom. The Washington Post reports that Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s email on Friday said the criminal cyber organization known as the Maze group had claimed responsibility for the attack and posted stolen data on the dark web.
Associated Press