Transparency News, 10/4/21

October 4, 2021

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state & local news stories


In January, a federal court ordered the Virginia Department of Corrections to create a language access policy after a three-year legal battle over allegations that the agency denied services to a non-English speaker that were designed to help him leave solitary confinement. The DOC was required to adopt the language plan on or before June 15 and submit the final draft to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which sued the department in 2018 on behalf of Nicolas Reyes, a man formerly incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison who speaks only Spanish. That did not happen. The new deadline was set for Friday, but at noon, ACLU spokeswoman Meredith Mason said the agency had yet to send the final version. The department, however, supplied the 13-page policy — which DOC officials signed on Sept. 17 and Sept. 20 — to the Richmond Times-Dispatch late Friday morning. By 5 p.m., the plan was not publicly available online, where 287 of the department’s operating procedures are linked and updated monthly. Lisa Kinney, the agency’s director of communications, said a draft had been developed by the initial deadline, but the department wanted to fulfill another part of the settlement first: hiring a systemwide “limited English proficient” coordinator.
Richmond Times- Dispatch
stories from around the country
Vice President Kamala Harris’ office recently rejected our Freedom of Information Act request for her office’s basic payroll information. However, President Biden’s White House, the federal executive agencies, all 50 states, and at least 80,000 local units of government are legally required to provide this information. Our auditors at capture and display 25 million salary and pension records annually on our website. Yet, the Office of the Vice President (VP) was missing from our data, so we filed a request for details – including employee name, position, and salary.

New York Coalition for Open Government wants Gov. Kathy Hochul to replace the executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government and push for structural changes reforms of the committee as the governor reconfigures her administration after the resignation of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. "In order for you to achieve a new era of transparency, you must rid yourself of appointees selected through Cuomo’s flawed way of doing public business. Several Cuomo appointees have recently resigned from their positions," the coalition's president, Paul W. Wolf, wrote in a letter to Hochul Wednesday. "The same house cleaning needs to occur at the Committee on Open Government." Wolf leveled several concerns about Shoshanah Bewlay, the executive director of the committee, including being appointed to the position in a "closed-door process that kept the public and members of the committee in the dark." "Mr. Wolf’s letter is not accurate," Bewlay said in a statement. 
Times Union

An Indian River School Board vote of no confidence towards Delaware Governor Carney's handling of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions was deemed to violate the Freedom of Information Act, according to the Delaware Attorney General's Office. AG Kathy Jennings' office received a complaint from William Pickett about the votes that took place at the August 22, 2021 IR School Board meeting.  A discussion item described as "2021-2022 School Year" led to a conversation by Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens about what the district would be required to do under the mask mandate issued by Governor Carney earlier in the month. That led board member Dr. Donald Hattier, a chiropractor, to make a motion asking for a vote of no confidence asking Carney's "minions study and fix what he is creating." That vote passed 9-1, and then the board also voted to draft a letter to Carney petitioning him to overturn the mandate. Action items at public meetings are required to be declared at the posting of the agenda, seven days before the meeting, based on FOIA rules.

The Infowars host and conspiracy theorist was found liable for damages in three defamation suits brought by the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook over his claims that the shooting was a hoax.

editorials & opinion
Former Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe remains one of my mentors regarding local politics. When I decided to share my thoughts about public comment time, he was my first call for a little background. Nohe shared some history regarding what used to be called “citizens time.” He joined the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in 2004. That was before social media or many other ways we use today to easily communicate were available. Next to sending a letter, citizens time was the easiest way for residents to talk directly to the board.  Maybe someone needed a stop sign erected, a street light repaired or a pothole patched.  Perhaps it was a complaint about some policy.  That was then. Things have changed. The Prince William School Board recently experienced what public comment time looks like these days. It wasn’t pretty. Similar scenarios have plagued other public bodies in the region. What many don’t understand is that public comment time before any government body in Virginia is a privilege, not a right.
Al Alborn, InsideNoVa

Virginia has embarked on an unprecedented – for us – process of letting a bipartisan commission draw new legislative districts. At least now we have a commission that is officially accepting comments from Virginians who want to weigh in on how the lines should be drawn. The commission’s website so far posts more than 500 pages worth of comments. I’ve read through these and here are some observations:
Dwayne Yancey, Cardinal News