Transparency News 10/30/18


October 30, 2018


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state & local news stories


"He had requested the information prior to the June primary. However, the committee opted to wait until the general election cycle to pursue it."

The chairman of the Hopewell Republican Committee has filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the city’s general registrar over what he called an improper response to a request for election officers’ party affiliation. Brandon Howard filed the suit Friday in Hopewell Circuit Court against Yolanda W. Stokes. Howard claimed the response Stokes gave him to his FOIA request was not adequate according to state transparency laws. In a phone interview, Howard said he had requested the information prior to the June primary. However, the committee opted to wait until the general election cycle to pursue it. He said state election code requires the registrar to provide to a local party chairman information about the name and party affiliation of each officer working precincts.
The Progress-Index

Bijan Ghaisar, the motorist who was fatally wounded by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fairfax County last November, did not have a weapon “in plain view or reach of the driver” when the officers fired nine times into his Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to reports released by county police. Both the Park Police and the FBI, who took over the investigation shortly after the Nov. 17 shooting, have declined to say whether Ghaisar was armed or posed a threat to the officers. The reports released Friday by Fairfax County police, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Washington Post, said the Park Police officers had to smash open Ghaisar’s driver’s side window to free him from his vehicle after they shot him. The two officers remain on the job and have not been publicly identified by the Park Police or the FBI. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Post in August, Park Police Chief Robert D. MacLean last week declined even to confirm that two men, identified to The Post by one law enforcement official as the officers involved in the incident, were employed by the Park Police.
The Washington Post

Recollections of life and work at 1970s-era Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Marion were published here recently. Additional points of interest about the facility as well as some history of mental health care in the wider region not included in the first account are to follow. Two sources of additional reading material provide fascinating troves of information. One is the Library of Virginia, where “Records of Southwestern State Hospital, 1887-1948” may be found. Another is Carla Joinson’s 113-page 2012 master’s of history thesis for East Tennessee State University entitled “The Perception and Treatment of Insanity in Southern Appalachia.” A staggering wealth of records are held by the Library of Virginia. State Freedom of Information and Health Records Privacy acts cover release of this information to the public. So does the state Public Records Act, which holds that all privacy protected information must not be released for 75 years “from date of creation.”
The Roanoke Times

Lawyers for the man accused of slamming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters after the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally met with prosecutors and a Charlottesville circuit judge Monday to iron out details for the upcoming three-week trial. Monday afternoon’s meeting was to allow for “housekeeping” between attorneys and the judge. It was conducted in the chambers of Judge Richard E. Moore. Several similar meetings have occurred as the Circuit Court and attorneys prepare for the logistically complex trial. However, Moore did enter two orders — one that will govern audience expression during the trial and another that addresses safety and security. Further details on the orders were not available Monday.
The Daily Progress

The board wants to gather several types of data from police, members say, to determine what the permanent board should review. The Charlottesville Police Department data would be over the past seven years and include investigative detention reports; use-of-force incidents; internal affairs investigations and appeals; and civilian complaints of police misconduct. Some of the requests seek data going back a decade. The city has told this initial review board that it will not be able to collect its own data. Future iterations of the CRB, however, might have that authority. Despite that, the bylaws state that the current CRB needs that information to determine how the permanent board will work. Police Chief RaShall Brackney has said that previously released data on investigative detentions, commonly called “stop-and-frisk,” was incomplete and can’t be gathered because the department switched to a new software system. Board members said that’s not Brackney’s decision to make. “The fact is she is now in control of a police department that has been collecting data for a long time and she might not want to be held accountable for that … but I think we would love to fight pretty hard to make sure we get access to all of that,” board member Sarah Burke said at Monday’s meeting.
The Daily Progress

With a dozen candidates to interview, the Bristol Virginia City Council now plans to split the field in half and conduct public interviews tonight and Thursday. The council plans to interview six candidates tonight and the other six on Thursday, according to a new schedule from City Hall. A final selection is expected next week with that person replacing Doug Fleenor, who resigned amid an effort to oust him from the council. Both meetings start at 6 p.m., and are open to the public. A closed session is planned for Friday morning for council to discuss the candidates.
Bristol Herald Courier




editorials & columns


"It’s true that a significant portion of the time, the ambitious plans of local government aren’t good policy. In those cases, somebody really does need to speak up against them."

In the 1950s, while doing research for a book on political participation, the social scientist James Q. Wilson found himself attending a lot of citizen engagement meetings on urban planning. Eventually he reached a conclusion that seemed obvious to him, but that public officials, and especially political reformers, didn’t talk much about. Wilson’s insight was that most citizens don’t attend meetings to endorse a policy, to give their blessing to a new project, or to sit back and learn. They show up to complain -- to say no to what’s being proposed. One reason most public officials don’t talk much about this is that it runs counter to the deeply held American belief that the broadest possible public participation is good for democracy. It’s true that a significant portion of the time, the ambitious plans of local government aren’t good policy. In those cases, somebody really does need to speak up against them. Public meetings generate a warped sense of what the community is all about. They attract the affluent, the angry and the articulate. They do a poor job of expressing the views of the ordinary citizen.
Alan Ehrenhalt, Governing