Transparency News, 10/20/21


October 20, 2021
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state & local news stories

The Virginia Department of Elections launched a website to help people stay informed about voting and the elections process. The department said the "Vote with Confidence" site has information about when and where people can vote, how Virginia conducts its elections, and key dates and deadlines.  According to the department, the website's information will be of interest to new voters and seasoned ballot casters alike. Commissioner Christopher Piper said the site's goal is to boost confidence in the elections process.

An attorney for the Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot told a three-justice panel of the Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday that a trial judge got it wrong when she barred the media and public from a bond hearing for a Newport News police officer charged with murder. Brett Spain, the lawyer for both newspapers, contended that Circuit Court Judge Margaret Poles Spencer didn’t have justification to close the April hearing for Sgt. Albin Trevor Pearson, who is accused of killing Henry Kistler “Hank” Berry III in late 2019. “As the U.S. Supreme Court and (the Virginia Supreme Court) have said, the press acts as a ‘surrogate for the public,’ which cannot as a practical matter attend criminal trials with any sort of regularity,” Spain said. The Supreme Court rules did not permit the prosecution or Pearson’s attorney to speak before the court on Tuesday, but they will be given the opportunity to do so if the full appeal is granted. The city of Newport News, for its part, contended that its internal affairs files should continue to be sealed to protect the rights of the city’s police officers, and to protect the city’s interest in having the officers cooperate in internal affairs investigations. It’s not clear when the high court will decide whether the grant the newspapers’ appeal. Pearson’s trial on the murder charge is slated for early December.
The Virginian-Pilot

Two Isle of Wight County School Board members announced last week that they are stepping down — one immediately, while the other will complete her term but not seek reelection in November. Julia Perkins, who was not present at Thursday’s meeting, submitted her resignation to the board ahead of the meeting. Board chair Jackie Carr read the letter aloud after the public comment portion of the meeting. Carr also made her own announcement at the end of the meeting: She will not seek reelection in November as she had planned, though her name will still appear on the ballot. Carr, who represents the Carrsville district on the board, will complete her term, which expires at the end of December. In her announcement, Carr cited the way that “politics has crept its way into our school” as a reason behind her decision. She also mentioned wanting to prioritize her family, faith and health.
The Virginian-Pilot

Tunstall District Supervisor Vic Ingram was censured Tuesday night by fellow Pittsylvania County supervisors after text messages surfaced and were "construed as racist" against another board member.  Those messages — sent during a June board meeting — targeted Dr. Charles H. Miller Jr., the representative of the Banister District. Miller said he was referred to as Ray Charles and "Blind Tom," an expression he wasn't familiar with, but said "it doesn't sound complimentary." This was during a meeting where Miller wore dark shades because of a procedure to his eyes, followed by dialysis rendering it nearly impossible for him to see. The resolution to censure Ingram — for "conduct unbecoming a supervisor that has been detrimental to the board" — went beyond the text message episode. The resolution approved Tuesday night also states Ingram breached the confidentially of closed sessions and "meddled in personnel issues with county employees that are not direct reports to the board." "I do not know what was in supervisor Ingram's heart or mind as he ridiculed me for medical conditions beyond my control," Miller, who signed up to speak during the citizen comment session, said. And the end of Miller's comments, applause erupted from those in the audience. Ingram then wanted a chance to speak, but Warren explained during this particular session of comments from the citizens, board members do not interact or respond. But at the end of the night's session, Ingram lashed out saying it was "nasty politics" behind the actions by the board.
Danville Register & Bee

After Culpeper County School Board Chairman Marshall Keene laid into his board colleagues this week, no one rebutted his accusations. Making his statement the last item during the public portion of Monday night’s board meeting, televised on Culpeper Media Network, Keene defended himself against another board member’s questioning of his actions. In his remarks, Keene said other School Board members may assert that for legal reasons, they can’t disclose what they said during a Sept. 13 closed session about Keene’s behavior. But that’s not so, he said. Keene said he’d sought private legal counsel on the question. On Monday, bringing into the public eye a dispute that largely had been kept off-view, Keene ticked off some of board member Barbee Brown’s examples. He scoffed as he quoted parts of her letter, saying people could ask for it via a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request. Keene was incensed that the School Board, without naming him, included a discussion of her concerns on the agenda for its executive session on Monday, Sept. 13. The agenda didn’t name Keene, mentioning only “a specific public officer.”
Culpeper Star-Exponent

editorials & opinion

"There’s a constructive way to have that debate without demonizing the other side as evil."
Opponents of Isle of Wight County Schools’ equity and inclusion movement have made their point and scored a couple of major political victories. Now, for the good of this community, it’s time to turn down the temperature. Isle of Wight has a long, proud history of civil discourse in its public affairs. Even the emotional, monthslong debate over the fate of the county’s Confederate monument was mostly constructive and courteous, culminating with a unanimous decision by the Board of Supervisors that both sides could live with. Humility, kindness and respect should remain hallmarks of this community’s handling of controversial issues. The recent backlash against the Isle of Wight County School Board and administrators has been anything but. There’s a constructive way to have that debate without demonizing the other side as evil.
The Smithfield Times