Transparency News, 10/16/20


 October 16, 2020
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state & local news stories
When Jonathan Alger took over as the president of JMU, many argue, transparency and accountability from leadership turned toward a new direction.  Under Alger’s tenure, the JMU Board of Visitors (BOV) and its operational and decision-making processes were deliberately restricted from the public eye, multiple sources say, and that obscurance has been brought to a head in light of COVID-19 and its effect on JMU’s operations.  Among the changes implemented by Alger, Kenneth Bartee, who served on the Board from 2010 to 2014 alleged, were private calls with BOV members a few days before each public meeting of the Board.  While each Board member only hears the perspective of the other member in their two-member call, the set of calls allows Alger the opportunity to observe where each member — and therefore, the BOV as a whole — sits on each issue before walking into the public meetings. Megan Rhyne, the director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, also clarified that the practice is within the law under the Freedom of Information Act, but yet, she said, the allowance by law has created a method used by public bodies and related officials to have body-wide conversations without having to disclose the meetings to the public.
The Breeze

Plaintiffs are asking Circuit Court Judge Dennis Smith to reconsider his decision to dismiss their suit against the five Democrats on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors for a public forum they attended in May. Alan Gloss, one of three petitioners in the motion to reconsider, told InsideNoVa that the judge used too narrow a definition of what would constitute a public meeting. He also said that even though the Board’s five Democrats did not organize the meeting and largely showed up independently to hear from distraught community members after the killing of George Floyd, they should be considered organizers of the forum because it was organized by the Chief of Police and he reports to them. Gloss said the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision if Smith denies their motion to reconsider his ruling. 


editorials & columns
Consider the perverse spectacle of a watchdog agency, the Office of the State Inspector General, intended to “maximize the public’s confidence and trust in state government by promoting and practicing the highest level of integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and economy,” refusing to release details of its investigation into the latest misdeeds of the Virginia Parole Board. Crazy as it may sound, it’s hard to maximize the public’s confidence when you won’t tell the public what you’ve discovered. Like with other FOIA disputes, the only way to way to find out is to file suit and go to court, like a Northern Virginia man did when he got a stiff arm by Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, as he sought documents on her decision to pull statues and busts of Confederates in the dead of night from the Capitol.
Virginia Mercury

Every week, the White House coronavirus task force publishes a list of how states are managing their COVID-19 cases, but it does not release the documents to you. The task force sends those reports to governors. Journalists have to go to the states to collect them. The reports include county-by-county assessments of how the virus is spreading and other important information. The newest task force report to Idaho, for example, recommended the state close public schools. In other words, this is detailed and valuable data. Since July, the Center for Public Integrity has gathered the reports from all of the states that would turn them over and compiled them in one place. Journalists, you should be FOIA’ing these reports from your governors’ offices. (Some states, like Oklahoma, publish the report every week.) Then, I would push you to post the report on DocumentCloud each week. The Center for Public Integrity is posting the reports as they get them — if they get them.