Transparency News, 10/19/20


 October 19, 2020
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state & local news stories
A motion by a Pound resident claiming the town was not giving proper notice of council meetings has been dismissed, but the case judge advised two town officials to comply with state law on meeting notices. General District Judge Andrew Johnson on Tuesday dismissed resident David Gent’s request for a writ of mandamus against the town over an alleged failure by town Clerk Jessica Adams to post a timely notice at town hall, in a local newspaper and on the town’s website. Gent’s claim centered on a Sept. 9 council meeting that he claimed was not advertised properly. He said that the meeting notice was not accessible to town residents since town hall had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adams said she had posted the notice on the front door of the town hall. Town Attorney and police officer Tim McAfee, appearing with Adams in court, challenged Gent’s claim that the special-called September council meeting should have been posted on the town website. McAfee said the town website, which has been down for construction since September, did not qualify as an official government website because the website did not have a .gov address. Johnson found that there was no evidence of a violation by the town after Adams said she had posted notice on the town hall front door and at her desk. McAfee asked Johnson if he was going to grant attorney’s fees to the town from Gent, and Johnson said no. Johnson then told McAfee and Adams it was “incumbent” on the town to follow state FOIA law regarding proper and timely meeting notices.
Times News

A state panel tasked with recommending a replacement for Virginia’s Robert E. Lee statue at the U.S. Capitol will hold a virtual public hearing on the matter next month. The panel, created by the General Assembly earlier this year, has set a Nov. 17 hearing, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Sunday. The public can also weigh in by email or mail through Nov. 27.
Associated Press
stories from around the country
A Minnesota judge in the case of four ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd ruled in favor of defense attorneys to allow video and transcripts of a previous police encounter with Floyd to be made public. Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill rejected the prosecution's push to place a 48-hour seal on court filings. It followed a move by one of the defense attorneys to submit evidence of Floyd's May 2019 arrest, which took place almost a year before he died in police custody as a result of being pinned down on a Minneapolis street.

editorials & columns
On Thursday, The Breeze published an article titled “Alger moved JMU away from transparency, skirts open meetings laws” that detailed concerns over transparency, accountability and leadership from JMU’s President Jonathan Alger and the Board of Visitors. The story was vigorously fact-checked, edited and sourced for accuracy. Later Thursday evening, President Alger wrote a letter to The Breeze responding to the story, expressing his disappointment over the “tone, the tenor and the inaccuracies of fact within this article.” In an email to the JMU Media Board, which includes The Breeze’s Editor-in-Chief Katelyn Waltemyer, Caitlyn Read, the university spokesperson and director of communications, and me, Read said the following: “The Breeze has violated the most foundational journalist ethics in this article related to providing context, considering sources’ motives and supporting an open exchange of views."  The university spokesperson’s assertion that our organization has violated “basic journalistic standards” deeply concerns me, and it’s not something we take lightly at The Breeze. Let me be clear, though: The Breeze stands behind the facts of the story and the decision to publish, which was made by Editor-in-Chief Katelyn Waltemyer. We stand behind the editorial staff and the reporting by Jake Conley. The story was vigorously fact-checked, edited and sourced for accuracy. 
The Breeze
Since I was not given the courtesy of responding before the article was published, here is what I would have shared. As we discussed how to improve communications and board meetings, we developed a system of preparatory calls to brief board members on upcoming agenda items and to ensure that we could gather information that they might need to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities. These calls increased transparency with the board and led to more engaged and informed board members who, in turn, have been much better prepared to meaningfully participate in public board meetings, offer substantive feedback, make and challenge decisions, and provide leadership as they should. As is pointed out in the article, this is a common practice, because it leads to a more informed and prepared board, something everyone should be in favor of. Many board members have found these calls to be a helpful practice.
Jonathan Alger, The Breeze