Transparency News, 10/21/21


October 21, 2021
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state & local news stories
Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) is actively recruiting for a FOIA Officer for the school division: This position is officially responsible for receiving and responding to requests for public records, as required under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA). As FOIA Officer, the individual determines which school and/or department(s) supplies the records based on the request, communicates with appropriate PWCS staff on the specific request, reviews and redacts documents as needed, interacts with the requestor, processes and records payments, and meets timelines and other procedural requirements of VFOIA. This position serves as the main point of contact for all VFOIA requests and is responsible for leading and managing the VFOIA effort and providing a final quality assurance review of all responses to FOIA requests.
To learn more and apply for this position, please visit Click on "View Current Vacancies" and scroll down to "Officer, FOIA"

The leading candidates for Virginia governor have gone quiet on commitments both previously made to disclose at least some information from recent tax returns before the Nov. 2 election. Neither the campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe nor that of Republican Glenn Youngkin has responded to recent inquiries from The Associated Press about their plans to share the information with voters. While it is not required for Virginia gubernatorial candidates to disclose their returns, there is some limited precedent for doing so. The complete documents could give a more nuanced look at a candidate’s income, deductions and philanthropy than the state’s mandatory disclosures do.
Associated Press

A Virginia Beach grant program to encourage business expansion in Virginia Beach is riddled with holes, according to a recent audit. For years, the Development Authority has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to businesses to attract them to Virginia Beach — or to get them to stay. The grants essentially help reimburse companies for capital investment and job creation in the city. But the methods used to confirm that a company has met the criteria are not up to par, City Auditor Lyndon Remias told authority members at a meeting Tuesday. Remias also said records from recent years are incomplete — some grants had been fully paid out while others still had available funds. Requiring more documentation from companies such as payroll reports and paid invoices would provide stronger evidence that the businesses are meeting the grant criteria, he said. Currently, companies submit spreadsheets detailing employee positions and salaries, and that “some of those could be questionable,” Remias said.
The Virginian-Pilot

In September, members of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners expressed outrage over a recording of an incident that led police to bar three men from public housing. Overriding advice from the agency’s legal counsel and public safety director, a plurality of the board last month ordered its staff to take the men’s names off of RRHA’s no-trespassing list. Some members said what transpired was an “abuse” of the controversial policy that advocates have criticized even after the board revised it earlier this year. On Tuesday night, commissioners emerged from a two-hour closed session and voted to rescind their own order from September after learning that the staff it oversees had not complied with the order. Prior to the changes, 3 out of 4 people on the list were Black men, according to the most recent version released by RRHA. The Richmond Police Department, which enforces the policy, has an updated version, with about 250 names. The department refused to release the list in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Following a ruling against him in early October, The Breeze’s Editor-in-Chief Jake Conley says he’s worried moving forward about how much information university officials will or will not provide to journalists in the interest of public health.   Conley, who sued the university on behalf of the campus newspaper, was asking that JMU provide The Breeze with COVID-19 data in response to a FOIA request filed last year. University officials said they declined to release dorm-specific information in order to protect the privacy of students living on campus, arguing that individual students’ identities could have been easily matched up to more detailed case data. Judge Bruce Albertson agreed, siding with the university.  Harrisonburg City Schools release COVID school-by-school positive case information and isolation numbers information on a daily basis on a public dashboard on their website. Conley says that many of the schools in the city are no bigger than the larger dorms on campus.  JMU spokesperson Mary-Hope Vass says that while the city schools may have reached a different conclusion about FERPA and how to publicize COVID-19 case data, the university stands behind its decision not to release dorm-by-dorm information. 
The Citizen
stories from around the country
A North Carolina judge heard Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten's request to release the body camera video of Andrew Brown Jr., the man who was shot and killed by deputies in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, earlier this year, to the public. A court official says Judge Jerry R. Tillett’s order "has been drafted and is forthcoming," but didn’t say when it would be released. Selected parts of the body camera videos were shown at a press conference in May when District Attorney Andrew Womble said the shooting was justified. The full videos have not been shown to the public, and a judge previously denied their release until state police finished its investigation.

editorials & opinion

People attending a school board or municipal government meeting often are puzzled when a member of one of those elected bodies chooses to abstain from voting on an issue. Perhaps, most of those people soon learn that the abstention was the means by which the member in question made the correct decision regarding something that would have been a conflict of interest, if he or she had voted. The Wall Street Journal has released findings from an investigation into federal judges who failed to recuse themselves in cases where they had conflicts. Here is the most troubling finding: “More than 130 federal judges have violated U.S. law and judicial ethics by overseeing court cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.” The scope of the problem is an atrocity. According to the Journal’s investigation, no judges in modern times have been removed from the federal bench solely for having a financial interest in a plaintiff or defendant who appeared in their courtroom. Perhaps it is time for that to change.
Daily News Record