Transparency News, 10/14/21


October 14, 2021
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state & local news stories

Kerry Devine insisted that brevity could work in favor of residents voicing their concerns to Fredericksburg City Council. The councilwoman said during Tuesday night’s meeting that some of the greatest speeches in American history didn’t require the five minutes some residents are requesting City Council reinstate. Public comments were limited to three minutes after the George Floyd protests. Devine said city residents shouldn’t focus on the two minutes lost to the change, but instead consider that officials have “allowed” residents three minutes to express themselves. Despite Devine’s suggestion, City Council voted unanimously to permit speakers in public comment to talk for five minutes instead of three. The same vote included a return to unlimited total public comment time rather than the 40-minute limit that was instituted in 2020.
Free Lance-Star

The Alexandria City Council voted early Wednesday to return police to the city’s public schools through June, reversing a narrow vote five months ago — over objections from the school board and superintendent — to pull the armed officers out of school hallways. The middle-of-the night decision is the latest twist in a contentious debate over the Northern Virginia city’s School Resource Officer program, which sends five police officers to Alexandria’s one public high school and three public middle schools. The city council vote at about 1 a.m. Wednesday capped a tense, six-hour meetingoccasionally punctuated by interruptions from parents and others in the audience. Several council members — largely led by Canek Aguirre (D) — grilled the city’s top school and police officials about the gun incidents and the school district’s response. Mayor Justin Wilson (D) — who had voted to keep the SRO program — called the discussion a “disaster,” saying the questioning of Alderton and Hutchings was “the biggest waste of time” he had witnessed in his more than 10 years on the body. “I’m sorry we had to do this, quite honestly,” he said, at one point raising his voice and banging on his lectern in frustration. “This has been a horrific process from the beginning.”
The Washington Post
stories from around the country
The Orlando Sentinel reported in 1998 that “members of the Saudi Arabian royal family” had been secretly buying up tracts of undeveloped land in Florida through a network of offshore companies. But a Miami Herald investigation based on leaked documents has solved a long-running mystery surrounding these deals: Which Saudis? What is the true extent of their business empire? And how close are they to the ruling monarchs? The leaked documents show seven offshore holding companies owned by Khalid I. Al-Ibrahim with Brown as their representative. Prior press releases and news reports tie Al-Ibrahim to a few more. Florida does not require companies doing business in the state to reveal their owners but a Herald analysis of the state’s corporation records found 75 companies whose corporate names, registered agents and mailing addresses were patterned in a way to indicate a connection with the Ibrahims. The Ibrahim name appears on only two.

editorials & opinion
More concerning to me, though, was the recent memorandum issued by the U.S. Justice Department concerning school boards and threats that have been allegedly made against members across the nation. The memo was issued in response to school board meetings, some here in Virginia, which have indeed gotten unruly and even unnecessarily ugly. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Oct. 4 announcement acknowledged that “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution,” but also added that “that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.” He went on to say that his department “is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate.” Now, to a point, most everyone agrees with the statement. Making threats against public officials is and should be illegal. But efforts “to intimidate individuals based on their views” strikes me as disturbingly vague, coming from an agency with armed officers and legions of lawyers. Can a parent tell an elected school board member that they will work to defeat him in the next election? Can a board, faced with a roomful of angry parents murmuring, claim to feel intimidated and call for federal security? Can mere dissent from board policy be deemed intimidation? Should we read the memo itself as veiled intimidation?
John Long, The Roanoke Times