Transparency News 10/2/18



October 2, 2018


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state & local news stories


The former police chief's payment is part of a “settlement agreement” and both parties agreed that the terms would remain confidential.

Charlottesville’s former police chief has remained on the city payroll since stepping down in December 2017 and will continue to be paid through July under a confidential settlement agreement, city officials confirmed on Monday. Al Thomas announced that he was retiring after a report criticized the city’s handling of the Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally. At the time, city officials said his departure was effective immediately. However, City spokesman Brian Wheeler said on Monday that although Thomas is not on active duty, he will remain on the city’s payroll through July 15, 2019. Thomas’ annual salary is $134,514, Wheeler said. At Monday’s City Council meeting, City Attorney John Blair said Thomas’ payment is part of a “settlement agreement” and both parties agreed that the terms would remain confidential. Wheeler said Thomas and the city entered the agreement to settle an employment dispute. He declined to provide the contract, citing a state law protecting personnel matters and disciplinary action.
The Daily Progress

Charlottesville City Council has officially appointed spokesman Brian Wheeler as interim clerk of council until the position can be permanently filled. Wheeler replaces Paige Rice, whose last day with the city was Sept. 21. While Rice also held the title of chief of staff, Wheeler’s appointment does not carry that role. Wheeler’s responsibilities with the new role are primarily limited to taking minutes at council meetings.
The Daily Progress

Roger L. Gregory, chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had a one-word question he wanted a lawyer for the U.S. Forest Service to answer — “When?” Gregory asked the question twice more for emphasis in a Richmond courtroom last week. He sought an answer for the timing of what he called a “reversal” in the federal agency’s position on the risks posed by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, planned through two national parks on steep mountain slopes prone to landslides. Environmentalists say the answer can be found in a series of emails exchanged in late 2016 — just after the presidential election — among officials of the U.S. Forest Service, responsible for managing the George Washington National Forest in Virginia and the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The Southern Environmental Law Center obtained the emails through a FOIA request.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The husband of Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales secured a criminal charge last week against an activist who wants his wife recalled. Barry Randall is accused of posting the Moraleses’ home address online with "the intent to coerce, intimidate or harass" them. The warrant lists it as a class one misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. Luis Morales went to a Portsmouth magistrate to seek the charge Friday, one day after Randall obtained an emergency protective order against Morales. The new charge appears to stem from Randall’s decision to post a photo of that protective order – complete with the unredacted address – on Facebook. In text messages, Randall decried the filing of the criminal charge as harassment. He said he found the address by Googling Morales' name. "This is bullying and lies," he said. "His address is public information."
The Virginian-Pilot

In its response to a petition for injunction by the former social services director, Pittsylvania County denied allegations that the county violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and asked the court to dismiss the petition. The response was filed in Pittsylvania County Circuit Court on Thursday, about 20 days after the initial petition for injunction was filed on behalf of former social services director Sherry Flanagan. The response denies the petition’s allegations that the county withheld documents requested in a FOIA request by Flanagan, made on Aug. 9. It also denies the allegations that the board of supervisors discussed matters in closed session that are not allowed under FOIA.
Register & Bee

A Rappahannock County resident’s lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors involving alleged Freedom of Information Act violations was the subject of a Tuesday hearing in Rappahannock County Circuit Court, with the judge in the case ultimately scheduling a follow-up hearing for next Thursday. Judge Jeffrey L. Parker—who is new to the case—heard the details of the lawsuit, which involves how the supervisors went about hiring a new county attorney to replace the retiring Peter Luke in several closed-meeting sessions in the spring and summer of 2016. The suit, brought by Rappahannock resident Marian M. Bragg, alleges that the Board—Chairman Roger A. Welch, Vice Chairman I. Christopher Parrish, members John D. Lisinski and Ronald Frazier, and former member Michael C. Biniek—failed to properly follow FOIA requirements in what they discussed during the closed sessions and what they announced after returning to open session.
Culpeper Star-Exponent


national stories of interest

California Gov. Jerry Brown ushered in a new era of transparency in California law enforcement on Sunday, signing two new laws that for the first time give the public access to internal police investigations and video footage of shootings by police officers and other serious incidents. The measures begin to undo decades of laws and court decisions that had made California the nation's most secretive state for police records. Sen. Nancy Skinner's bill allows the public to view investigations of officer shootings and other major uses of force, along with confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty.

Following a federal bribery probe investigating former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration’s muddy financial dealings, the City of Atlanta announced a new transparency tool called Atlanta’s Open Checkbook. The Open Checkbook shows the City of Atlanta’s expenditure of more than $2 billion between 2017 and 2018. “Rather than waiting for the public to ask or waiting for the media to ask, we are now making it available to you,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, announcing the arrival of Atlanta’s Open Checkbook on Sept. 4.
The Signal