Transparency News, 10/6/21


October 6, 2021
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state & local news stories

Yesterday, the FOIA Council subcommittee on meetings met. I presented a draft I worked on with the Virginia Press Association, Virginia Municipal Leauge, Virginia Association of Counties and the vice mayor of Alexandria, that attempts to simplify the whole section in FOIA dealing with electronic meetings -- from individual participation by phone, to hybrid meetings, to all-virtual ones -- in ordinary, non-emergency times. The draft is still a work in progress, thanks to the subcommittee's suggestion that the FOIA Council's director, Alan Gernhardt, take the draft and pretty it up (make it more in line with Virginia Code language) while we stakeholders continue to talk about  some of our areas of disagreement.

There was also discussion brought by lobbyist Phil Abraham, who is involved in several stakeholder groups that the General Assembly directed various cabinet secretaries and department heads to convene to discuss specific issues. Abraham noted that there is a lack of consistency over how these groups operate. There is a history of practice that groups appointed by individuals to advise that individual are not public bodies for purposes of FOIA, yet some work groups are being required to meet by FOIA's terms. Abraham has sought guidance from the attorney general.

Video of the hour-long meeting is here. You can hear comments from me, Aimee Perron Seibert of VPA, Phyllis Errico of VACo, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennet Parker and Abraham, but your can't see us.

The FOIA Council will be hosting live-webinar FOIA trainings this month. The webinars are free to attend and are approved for DCJS and CLE credit. Links to register can be found on the council's website. If you are interested in receiving DCJS or CLE credit, you will need to individually register and attend the webinar so that we can confirm your attendance.
• Access to Law Enforcement and Criminal Records (2 hours)
October 26, 2021 at 1:00 pm
• Access to Public Records (1.5 hours)
October 27, 2021 at 10:00 am
• Access to Public Meetings (1.5 hours)
October 27, 2021 at 1:00 pm
Register on the FOIA Council's website

Three members of Prince William County's Racial and Social Justice Commission appear to have violated the panel’s bylaws and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Commissioners Charles Haddow (Coles District), London Steverson (Brentsville) and Erica Tredinnick (Gainesville) held a town hall meeting Tuesday at Patriot High School about critical race theory and culturally-responsive teaching -- but it was not sanctioned by the full panel. In a response to InsideNoVa over Twitter, Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said when three or more members of a public body “get together to talk about public [business], they’re supposed to follow FOIA’s procedure for meetings.” “There are allowances for public fora, but that’s usually in the context of members at a forum held by someone else, not one held … themselves,” she wrote.  A county resident filed a lawsuit against the five Democrats on the Board of Supervisors earlier this year alleging they violated the law by attending a community meeting. The lawsuit was dismissed.

Furious fights over school policy and curriculum — some a proxy for larger cultural conflicts — continued unabated in Loudoun County this week, with some parents moving to recall members of the embattled school board and others forming a group to oppose that effort. Fight for Schools, a parent organization that has advocated against the school district’s equity initiatives, is seeking the recall of five Loudoun County School Board members over their alleged violation of Virginia open meeting laws. A Loudoun County Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday that the one recall petition the group has filed to date, against board member Beth Barts (Leesburg), could advance to trial, denying Barts’s motion to dismiss. Five parents of Loudoun students in grades two through 12 have formed a political action committee, Loudoun For All, to counteract the recall effort, which it called “appalling” in a news release. 
The Washington Post

Leigh B. Middleditch, Jr., whose centrist community activism over several decades sought solutions to divisive issues, died Monday at the age of 92. Middleditch, a long-time partner with the McGuireWoods LLP law firm, served on dozens of committees and boards of directors for agencies and organizations both locally and statewide. His most recent 8-year effort to change the way Virginia draws its district boundary lines for the General Assembly and the House of Representatives resulted in a state constitutional amendment approved by voters last November.
The Daily Progress
(Note: Middleditch was a longtime supporter of VCOG.)

The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, at its Tuesday morning meeting, declined to support a pair of resolutions that would have taken a politically symbolic stand against COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates. Salem Supervisor Tom Underwood proceeded to call his colleagues on the board “a bunch of wimps” for not supporting him. Underwood replied the timing is good for the voters in Stevensburg, referencing Supervisor Bill Chase, the county’s longest-serving supervisor, being up for reelection in November and facing two challengers. “They get to decide if they want to vote for someone that refuses to support this resolution in front of an election. They get to see that Mr. Chase, as he said, the wimp in Stevensburg, is not supporting standing up for employees,” the Salem supervisor said. Chase retorted, “I think that’s pretty stupid of you to make this a political issue. This is an issue for the safety of the citizens…so for you to make it a political issue is stupid and you’re being stupid.”
Culpeper Star-Exponent
stories from around the country
"You cannot allow torture to be done in secret and kept in secret."
The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing the limits of public disclosure about the CIA's secret torture program after the Sept.11 attacks. The central issue of the case concerns whether a Guantanamo Bay detainee who has never been charged with a crime can subpoena testimony from the CIA contractors who supervised his torture. "Yes, this case is about gathering information for use by the Polish prosecutions," Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies says. "There needs to be an accounting. Torture must be known. You cannot allow torture to be done in secret and kept in secret. That's fundamentally what this case is about." Specifically the question before the court is whether the so-called "state secrets privilege" protects the information in this case. The privilege, adopted by the high court in 1953, allows the government to seek to block evidence for a trial in the interest of national security.