Transparency News, 10/2/20


 October 2, 2020
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state & local news stories
"[Student member] Jones wasn’t in attendance at the meeting, but he said he was never offered access to the comments and wasn’t aware of the public comments survey at all."
The FOIA Council will start its review of HB 5090, the bill to require disclosure of some inactive criminal investigative records, on Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. To access the meeting link, check this page the day of the meeting.

A recording of Fairfax County's Virginia FOIA Training Day 2020 is now available online:
-Fairfax County’s Channel 16 video on demand, and
-Fairfax County’s YouTube Channel

Virginia State Police launched a new website this week designed to help the public submit and track Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The web-based public records portal opened to the public on October 1. The records management system is also available to the media and for attorneys to upload subpoena duces tecum and discovery requests. “Within the first nine months of 2020, our Office of Legal Affairs has received, processed and responded to more than 3,180 FOIA requests for Virginia State Police records,” said Col. Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. The new website, hosted by NextRequest©, is a secure platform that enables a requester to complete a simple form to submit an FOIA request to the Virginia State Police. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to help requesters understand their FOIA rights, how to submit a request, costs, contacts, a list of FOIA exemptions as granted by the Code of Virginia, and a link to the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

The public submitted a stack of 650 comments gauging JMU and the Board of Visitors’ (BOV) COVID-19 response to the university’s input form prior to the BOV meeting Sept. 18. Some commenters wondered how their input would factor into the BOV’s decision making. One faculty member said they weren’t convinced that their input would amount to anything because the form was obscurely located — only accessible at the bottom of the BOV meeting notice. Director of Communications and University Spokeswoman Caitlyn Read said this survey wasn’t the only opportunity the public had to disclose their opinions and that “meetings aren’t the only time the board is engaged.” The Breeze asked Read when the BOV obtained access to the survey three times but never received an answer. The Breeze also reached out to 10 members of the BOV to inquire when they accessed the comments and if the comments informed their decisions before the Sept. 18 BOV meeting but only received an answer from Student Representative to the Board of Visitors Norman Jones III. Jones wasn’t in attendance at the meeting, but he said he was never offered access to the comments and wasn’t aware of the public comments survey at all.
The Breeze

The Greene County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 28 filed its second lawsuit in two weeks against Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) and the RSA Board of Members, this time requesting the dissolution of the utility. The second lawsuit comes after the two Greene County representatives were prohibited at the RSA board’s Sept. 17 meeting from speaking at all during the meeting and going forward. The supervisors filed the first lawsuit on Sept. 14; both were filed in Greene County Circuit Court. After the first lawsuit was filed for alleged contract breaches, alleged violations of fiduciary duty and alleged non-compliance with its duties to Greene County, the RSA Board of Members voted Sept. 17, to prohibit the two Greene County RSA board members—Stanardsville Supervisor Bill Martin and Planning Commissioner Ron Williams—from speaking, voting or participating in the remainder of that meeting or future RSA meetings, including closed sessions.
Greene County Record

The Policy Review Committee will recommend the elimination of two Suffolk School Board committees and adjusting the role of another. The Pupil Personnel Committee would be removed as a School Board committee in favor of a Student Services Review Committee, which School Board Attorney Wendell Waller said would be an administrative committee of the board whose members would be appointed by the superintendent to review decisionsmade by the Suffolk Public Schools’ discipline officer. He said by taking the Pupil Personnel Committee away from being a board committee, “it really protects the privacy rights of the students that may be going through this process.” He cited other, unnamed school divisions who have a similar committee set up. Expulsion decisions would still come to the full board, he said.
Suffolk News Herald
(NOTE: a superintendent-named committee of non-board members would not have to follow FOIA's meeting requirements of notice, minutes or public votes.)
stories of national interest
“I apologize for not getting the FOI response to you. I had to replace ink cartridges in my home office.”
With most government employees still working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, the disclosure of public records by many federal agencies and local government offices nationwide has worsened or even ground to a halt. When the pandemic was declared in early March, many employees at local, state and federal agencies abandoned their offices and began working remotely. Employees tasked with answering open-records requests have been forced to rely on telework computer systems that are often incompatible with the software used to process records requests. “I apologize for not getting the FOI response to you,” a public-records officer with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority wrote in an April response to a Washington Post public-records request for emails about the construction of Northern Virginia’s Silver Line rail project. “[I] had to replace ink cartridges in my home office.”
The Washington Post