Transparency News, 10/21/20


 October 21, 2020

There was no issue of the newsletter yesterday, Oct. 20.
state & local news stories
The FOIA Council subcommittee on criminal investigative records will meet today at 2:00. Written public comments are being accepted at Access the meeting link here. 

Legislation that would expand the use of virtual participation in public meetings received a thumbs up Tuesday from a Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council subcommittee. House Bill 321, sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, would allow a person to conduct public business virtually if that person cannot attend the meeting in person because of a serious medical condition or a serious medical condition of an immediate family member. There would be no limit on how many meetings a person could miss in this instance. The bill also would expand the ability to excuse oneself from a meeting because of a personal matter. A person would be allowed to miss two meetings or up to 10% of meetings, whichever is greater. The 10% would be rounded up to the next whole number.
The Center Square

Montgomery County is past the deadline on the payment it makes every year to the New River Criminal Justice Training Academy, the regional institution tasked with ensuring that local law enforcement and corrections officers obtain the credits needed to work. A top official with the Dublin-based academy said Montgomery County still owes an assessment fee of just over $56,000, an amount that was due on Sept. 30. The invoice, however, was sent out in July. “They owe us for what services we give them. If they don’t pay, we can freeze their records,” said Randy Ferrell, the training academy’s director. “We don’t want to do that, but … we are their home base academy.” The New River academy’s board did take a vote this past week on Montgomery County’s assessment fee matter, but both Ferrell and a few members on the body told The Roanoke Times to obtain the details of the action via a request filed under the Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
The Roanoke Times

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors removed Albert Burckard from its Confederate monument task force Thursday evening after learning of an email Burckard had sent, stating he was “disappointed” in the performance of the group’s Black appointees. The removal vote came following a half-hour closed session to discuss the “appointment or performance of specific appointees.” In Burckard’s place, the Board appointed Joan Jones, who had attended the Oct. 7 meeting as an observer. Jones is the immediate past president of Isle of Wight’s Chapter No. 699 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Burckard added that he still plans to attend future meetings of the task force as an observer, since they are open to the public.
The Tidewater News
stories from around the country
A federal appeals court dealt Ghislaine Maxwell, the alleged madam to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, twin blows late Monday by declining to consolidate her appeals in numerous overlapping cases and striking down her effort to thwart release of a controversial deposition she gave in a now-settled civil lawsuit. The three-judge Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held more than two hours of oral arguments last week, and issued a succinct Monday afternoon order holding that a lower court judge did not err in order the release of a 418-page deposition from April 2016 that could shed new light on the Epstein empire. “We have reviewed all of the arguments raised by Defendant-Appellant Maxwell on appeal and find them to be without merit,” the judges wrote, also turning away a request for consolidation with Maxwell’s criminal case in the Southern District of New York. “We DENY the motion to consolidate this appeal with the pending appeal in United States v. Maxwell.”
Miami Herald

The rush to mandatory telework in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic laid bare the state of agencies’ investment — or lack thereof — in IT infrastructure. That same lesson holds true for agency offices tasked with fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests at a time when employees, in some cases, have limited access to records while teleworking, especially if a FOIA request queries sensitive or classified records. In some cases, agencies have enabled remote access for some FOIA processing tools, but not enough that would allow this work to be completed by employees working from home.
Federal News Network



editorials & columns
We’ve been in close contact with Brett Gloss and other plaintiffs who filed the Freedom of Information Act legal complaint against the Prince William Board of County Supervisors Democratic majority regarding the Dems’ May 31 meeting that excluded the three Republican supervisors. We are writing this message with the plaintiffs’ knowledge and support. We support the plaintiffs’ current intent to file a motion to Fairfax County Judge Dennis J. Smith to reconsider his decision and, if unsuccessful, after that to possibly file an appeal. As we, Gloss, and his co-plaintiffs have suggested, the judge failed to look at the statute in plain language and imposed an insurmountable bar which required the plaintiffs to prove intent. The statute does not require proof of intent, only that the five Democrats attended and public business was discussed. Judge Smith also inappropriately applied the public forum exception because, in his view, the defendants did not arrange the meeting, thus the meeting was not subject to FOIA law.
Uriah Kiser, Potomac Local