Transparency News 10/5/18



October 5, 2018


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state & local news stories


"The clerk previously said the sign was posted after some people who had a grudge against a council member about a private matter were 'being kind of disrespectful' at a meeting and it seemed that they 'came to interrupt the meeting.'"

A man murdered his wife in their stately Ghent house, but Norfolk police – contrary to standard practice – decided not to tell the public about it. Gene Beale, 71, shot his wife, Katherine Beale, also 71, last month inside their longtime home in the 700 block of Yarmouth St., a one-way, 500-foot stretch of homes quaintly tucked between the Chrysler Museum and the cobblestone streets of the Freemason District. Then Beale shot and killed himself. Police went to their house around 2:45 p.m. on Sept. 11 to check out a suspicious situation and found their bodies, Norfolk police said weeks later, after getting an inquiry from The Virginian-Pilot. In virtually every other homicide in recent years, Norfolk police have sent out press releases unprompted to tell the public someone killed a person in their community. In fact, they’ve sent one out for all of the other 26 homicides that happened in the city so far this year. In the Beales’ case, detectives told the department’s public information officers, but those spokespeople decided not to alert residents. Police did provide basic information about what happened when news organizations – first WTKR and then The Pilot – asked.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Roanoke City Council is making another, more focused pass at convincing the Virginia General Assembly to allow it to ban guns in city council meetings. On Thursday, the council unanimously approved a legislative agenda for the 2019 session that calls on the legislature to authorize localities to bar firearms in places where the local governing body is meeting. “All we’re really asking for is to have the same security for city council meetings that the judges have in their courthouse and the schools have,” said Councilman Bill Bestpitch, chairman of council’s legislative committee.
The Roanoke Times

People attending public meetings at the Boyce town hall on East Main Street are now welcome to take photos and make video or audio recordings, according to Town Manager/Recorder Ruth Hayes. But other types of business being handled in the building still can’t be photographed or recorded. Virginia law makes clear both the public’s rights and government officials’ rights at meetings. State code Subsection 2.2-3707(G) reads that “any person may photograph, film, record or otherwise reproduce any portion of a meeting required to be open” under the state’s open meetings laws. However, earlier this year, a sign was posted behind the table where town officials gather for meetings stating that, in accordance with a resolution adopted by Town Council on Jan. 2, the “public shall not film, videotape or otherwise electronically record within town hall without expressed permission.” It did not say how permission could be obtained. Hayes previously said the resolution was adopted, and the sign was posted, after some people who had a grudge against a council member about a private matter were “being kind of disrespectful” at a meeting and it seemed that they “came to interrupt the meeting.”
The Winchester Star

A review of hundreds of government emails reveal that Winchester officials negotiated financial terms with Shentel over a proposed cellphone tower in Jim Barnett Park without realizing the discussions were being conducted improperly. The Winchester Star submitted Freedom of Information Act requests on Aug. 31 and Sept. 11 for all written correspondence from Nov. 1, 2017, to Sept. 11 regarding the construction and operation of a proposed cellphone tower in the city park.
The Winchester Star

A George Mason University professor is reviving a 41-year-old record book of state government information, this time online and with a focus on women in Virginia politics. Toni-Michelle Travis, along with seven GMU students in the Schar School of Policy, is working on a new and improved digital version of the Almanac of Virginia Politics that she hopes to finish in December. When complete, it will have information on members of the General Assembly, the state budget, election results and organize legislation by topic and whether it passed. “It’s a basic data pool from a lot of other public sites,” Travis said. “The problem is that all this information isn’t in one place.”
Virginia Mercury