Transparency News 10/9/19



October 9, 2019


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state & local news stories


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State officials who are grappling with the rollout of body-worn cameras across law enforcement agencies on Tuesday discussed murky issues of how the state’s freedom of information laws apply to the footage. Alan Gernhardt, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, told state and law enforcement officials that video captured by the cameras involving criminal activity is likely sealed by a broad exemption in Virginia’s law. But other footage — during a traffic stop or in someone’s house where a crime wasn’t committed — may be within reach of the public. The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t directly address body-worn camera footage — a relatively new technology — so it’s up to law enforcement agencies to take the footage and see where the law may apply.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia Beach School Board’s internal dispute over the superintendent burst into public view Tuesday night, as the board argued for almost three hours over whether some members had treated him fairly and whether a meeting to discuss the issue in August was legal. School Superintendent Aaron Spence brought forward a grievance, saying that several board members have created a hostile work environment for him. In response, three board members have hired a lawyer to argue that such a grievance submitted to the board is improper. Until Tuesday, the discussion had gone on in private. For nearly three hours, board members discussed - sometimes heatedly - members’ conduct with each other, the reasons for closing meetings and whether Spence can bring complaints to the board. They succeeded on two fronts - they approved standards for members’ conduct and processes for going into closed meetings.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Winchester Circuit Court Clerk’s Office has agreed to reduce the length of a public notice regarding a citizen-initiated voter referendum that will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The notice's shorter length significantly lowers the publication cost of $782.20 needed to run the previously submitted copy three times over three consecutive weeks in the city’s newspaper of record, The Winchester Star. The notice originally provided to The Star by acting Winchester Circuit Court Clerk Will Gardner was seven paragraphs long. The new, shorter notice is expected to be submitted to the paper today or Thursday, Gardner said.
The Winchester Star

After mulling over the wording, the Washington County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved sending flyers to county voters informing them about the potential move of the county courthouse to Abingdon’s former Kmart building. The supervisors voted 5-2, with Supervisor Phillip McCall and Vice Chairwoman Allison Mays opposing the plan, to spend more than $20,000 on the flyers.
Bristol Herald Courier

In a Richmond Times-Dispatch column published late last year, VCU President Michael Rao said “we are happy to endorse” the proposed $1.5 billion Navy Hill redevelopment deal. But Rao never consulted the Board of Visitors before giving the university’s rubber stamp to the controversial project. Keith Parker, chair of VCU’s Board of Visitors, said at a September 14 meeting that board members had not talked about the Navy Hill development project that Rao endorsed in the Times-Dispatch piece. VPM reported last month that the column was ghostwritten by a spokesman for the developer. The separate VCU Health System Board of Directors talked with Rao about the coliseum deal during closed sessions in March, October and December of 2018. Pam Lepley, vice president of university relations, said she could not disclose the specifics of what was discussed in a closed session, including whether an endorsement was mentioned. The VCU Health System signed a letter of intent with the Navy Hill developer to discuss potential partnerships, according to Lepley. That letter of intent has now expired. The university declined VPM’s Freedom of Information Act request for the letter, citing potential harm to “to the competitive position of the [VCU Health System] Authority.”
Virginia Public Media


editorials & columns


I filed a records request with the State Corporation Commission to find out who owns the 1,600 megawatt Chickahominy Power Station under permitting in the majority-minority county of Charles City. I uncovered through my request that although I am a customer tied to this facility, I would not be allowed basic information. Balico LLC’s Chickahominy Power application with the SCC redacts the names of the project’s backers and several executives behind it, the plant’s combustion turbines and the natural gas hookup. These facts are hidden in SCC public records due to a 2017 confidentiality request.
Mary Finley-Brook, Virginia Mercury