Transparency News, 10/15/21


October 15, 2021
follow us on TwitterFacebook & Instagram


state & local news stories

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July. The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission. Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees. The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year. The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
Virginia Mercury

On Oct. 4, Staunton Sheriff Matt Robertson stepped out of a privately owned helicopter to arrive at his personal campaign event at Gypsy Hill Golf Course, which is city property.  The city didn't give the sheriff the proper authorization to land an aircraft on city property. In fact, it had no idea there was a helicopter until the event was over. Despite releasing information about the campaign event months in advance, the city did not provide any records of communication between the sheriff and the city about planning the event
News Leader

Corruption in Virginia’s charitable gaming industry is running rampant due to inadequate oversight and conflicts of interest. That’s according to members of a General Assembly subcommittee studying reforms ahead of the 2022 legislative session. The bipartisan group met for the final time on Thursday to finalize their recommendations. Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) said conflicts of interest among members of the Charitable Gaming Board are to blame for the expansion.  The Charitable Gaming Board couldn’t immediately be reached for an interview. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services declined to comment. VDACS Communications Director Michael Wallace would not provide contact information for the board as requested. “VDACS does not speak on behalf of the Charitable Gaming Board as it relates to the topic of your inquiry,” Wallace wrote in an email. “For comment, you will need to contact the members of the Charitable Gaming Board directly. Their direct contact information is not available on our website.”

The bail bondsman in the Karla Dominguez murder case has been charged with criminal contempt of court and faces trial in January in the Alexandria Circuit Court. Man Nguyen’s car and gun were used by Ibrahim Bouaichi to kill Karla Dominguez last summer while Bouaichi was out on bond for allegedly raping Dominguez. The Alexandria Times first reported last year that Bouaichi allegedly killed Dominguez on July 29, 2020 while out on bond. Dominguez had accused Bouaichi of raping her in her home the year prior and he was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in January 2020 on five felonious charges: rape, sodomy, strangulation, malicious wounding and abduction with the intent to defile. Since those original articles, the Times learned through a resident-submitted FOIA request that not only did Nguyen own the vehicle and gun Bouaichi used to murder Dominguez, the two had known each other off and on for about 10 years.
Alexandria Times

Pittsylvania County School Board met Tuesday night to honor students, give awards and vote on requests. Four people were kicked out of the meeting for defying COVID-19 protocol. The atmosphere was extremely tense from the start of the meeting because of the ongoing mask mandate. Chairman J. Samuel Burton recapped what happened at last month’s meeting when two were removed for not wearing masks the correct way. “As far as the people that were escorted out, we are under health orders,” Burton said. “They were informed twice before the meeting. It is not our choice. It is the state health order. We can’t start the meeting if everyone isn’t wearing a mask.” Burton then gave one warning to everyone and commented he will have security remove people who aren’t wearing the masks and spoke to the crowd, saying, “When I’m conducting a meeting, I can take my face shield off to speak into the microphone.”

King William is hiring the husband of the former Commissioner of the Revenue to perform a reassessment of all the properties in the county, a county official confirmed last week. Pearson is the husband of former Commissioner of the Revenue Sally Pearson, who resigned mid-term in November 2020. Prior to leaving office, Sally Pearson faced scrutiny for refusing to take part in the county’s previous assessment, saying it was a waste of taxpayer money. Initially, the county hired Roanoke-based assessment company BrightMinds to conduct the reassessment to go into effect in 2021. But, after citing numerous errors, the board unanimously voted to throw out the assessment and start over. Following the invalidation of BrightMinds assessment, emails, obtained by the Tidewater Review through a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed that the Board of Supervisors withheld information from former County Administrator Bobbie Tassinari regarding the assessment which ultimately led to her resignation. In an email correspondence between fourth district Supervisor Stewart Garber and Sally Pearson, forwarded to several key county figures, discussions revealed errors with the assessment that were withheld from Tassinari.
Tidewater Review
stories from around the country
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson lashed out at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, two days after the newspaper informed the state of a data risk that left 100,000 Social Security numbers vulnerable to public disclosure. Parson said at a news conference that the Cole County prosecutor and the Missouri State Highway Patrol would investigate the matter. He said the news outlet that uncovered and reported the vulnerability would be held accountable, but didn’t mention action against the state officials who maintained a faulty system. “We are coordinating state resources to respond and utilize all legal methods available,” Parson said. “My administration has notified the Cole County prosecutor of this matter. The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s digital forensic unit will also be conducting an investigation of all of those involved.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

editorials & opinion
"They should not face threats for this service — no public official should. They shouldn’t be made to live in fear of going to the grocery store or made to cower in their homes."
State agencies seem to be getting conflicting advice.
They’ve been told that they CAN’T have virtual public comment or that they CAN’T have a hybrid meeting. They’ve been told that they MUST be in 100% in-person with 100% in-person public comment. Some state agencies are insisting that workgroups created by a cabinet secretary are public bodies when they aren’t. It’s all over the map, and I’m not sure why they aren’t getting the straight dope from the experts at the FOIA Council. The bad result, though, is that some state agencies have given their stakeholders the impression that the agency’s hands are tied, leading to the kind of frustration my friend’s colleague is experiencing.
Megan Rhyne on VCOG's Substack Newsletter

Communities need citizens involved in governance. Important decisions are strengthened through constructive public discourse. School boards in Virginia cannot set tax rates and depend on other bodies for funding, but they do shape the policies that affect the lives of children every day. Parents should be involved in those conversations. They should stand up and offer comment. They should contact their board members and make their case about a given policy or decision. Even when debate may get heated and the rhetoric ramps up, it’s critical to have citizens at the table.A public meeting should be exactly that. But it’s also true that school board members are devoting their time and energy to public service. Their compensation is no way equal to the amount of work they shoulder in their efforts to build better public schools for all children. They should not face threats for this service — no public official should. They shouldn’t be made to live in fear of going to the grocery store or made to cower in their homes. The public has a redress should they disagree with any elected official: the ballot box.
The Virginian-Pilot