Transparency News 10/7/19



October 7, 2019


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state & local news stories


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Durham School Services said a company representative will address the Roanoke School Board on Tuesday amid scrutiny of its performance. School board members had tasked the company last month with creating a plan to better communicate with parents and guardians affected by late buses. The company, in its first year as transportation provider for Roanoke City Public Schools, has faced public criticism for its performance. Meanwhile, Durham sent Roanoke its first invoices on Sept. 23 and Sept. 30. The bills — totaling approximately $545,000 — only cover August and include nine regular school days, midday runs, after-school activities and a day of summer school and orientation. The charges also include daily fees for bus aides and about $10,000 in startup costs. The Roanoke Times received a copy of the invoices through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request.
The Roanoke Times

A Southwest Virginia family seeking answers in a fatal 2018 officer-involved shooting has asked a court to demand that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office turn over records. Phillip Cameron Gibson II, 37, of Castlewood, died on May 8, 2018, in Glade Spring, following a lengthy pursuit that began in Abingdon. After the shooting, the Virginia State Police began investigating and turned the findings over to Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow, who cleared the officers of any wrongdoing within two weeks. Since then, the family has sought body-cam and dash-cam video footage of the shooting to try to clarify questions they have. Sheriff Fred Newman has refused to release the records, even after the family filed an official request under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. On Tuesday, Michelle Castle, Gibson’s sister, filed a petition for mandamus in Washington County Circuit Court. A mandamus is a court order to a government entity requiring it to take some specific act. In this case, Castle is asking the court to order the Sheriff’s Office to release the video in the shooting. The Sheriff’s Office “has failed to provide [Castle] records relating to the traffic stop and officer-involved shooting” of Gibson after Castle made a request under FOIA, the petition states.
Bristol Herald Courier

An understaffed clerk’s office in fast-growing Prince William County may have created a perfect storm for lawyers and others who had to navigate that courthouse in recent years. Multiple complaints about delays, errors and unhelpful staff suggest what can happen when clerks lack money to fill needed positions. Lawyers used an online forum to share complaints among themselves, according to attorneys Virginia Lawyers Weekly contacted. The forum, managed by the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, is not open to the public or media. But a few lawyers willingly spoke about the issues or provided copies of court records. Lawyers are not the only ones who noticed problems at the Prince William GDC clerk’s office. Clerks’ offices in Virginia are audited by the state Auditor of Public Accounts. In the most recent audit, reported on April 19, a repeated problem was discovered with voided transactions, which pose a risk for fraud. In four of 12 voided receipts tested, the clerk did not retain all copies. Two of the voided receipts lacked proper documentation about the reason for the voided transaction. The findings for voided transactions were precisely the same in an audit the year before.
Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Seven new defendants and $4 million were added Friday to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s civil lawsuit that alleges a series of embezzlements and financial misappropriations during the tenure Jennifer McDonald, the authority’s former executive director. Two of McDonald’s family members, her husband Samuel D. North and her mother Linda Hassenplug, were added to the lawsuit. Little Rugratz Daycare LLC, which is registered to Hassenplug, was another new defendant, along with former EDA administrative assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry and former B&G Goods store owner William Lambert.  The lawsuit states that Henry’s duties at the EDA included the “review and retention of” EDA records and she “breached her duty" by "either deliberately or negligently [failing] to detect and report the variety of frauds and schemes undertaken” by McDonald. It adds that Henry is believed to have “benefited from these acts.”
The Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

The Georgia secretary of state’s office acknowledged Thursday that a vendor had improperly redacted a purchasing document detailing security features of the state’s new $107 million voting system. The unredacted 143-page document was posted on the secretary of state’s website Thursday. The document, which explains “high level security” of the state’s new voting check-in iPads, doesn’t compromise the integrity of the system, according to the secretary of state’s office. The document was made public “in the spirit of good governance and transparency” after the secretary of state’s office was alerted about the redactions, said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs.

The press office for Colorado’s liberal Democratic governor, Jared Polis, is facing criticism after asking two small-town newspapers to take down an online news story reported by what it calls a biased news organization affiliated with the conservative Koch family. The Kiowa County Press in Eads and The Chronicle-News in Trinidad refused Polis spokesman Conor Cahill’s request this month to “unpublish” the story, a straightforward account about a new state office dedicated to the future of labor that Chicago-based The Center Square wrote. Cahill didn’t ask for a correction but objected to the group’s affiliations and said the story should run in the opinion section. The request stunned those who work at the papers, which increasingly rely on content supplied by startups such as The Center Square as they and other legacy news media have cut staff.
AP News