Transparency News 1/10/20



January 10, 2020

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state & local news stories



A suit filed by state Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey against station WTVR, CBS 6, columnist Mark Holmberg and other television station employees was dismissed in federal court Thursday. "This Court concludes that Holmberg's broadcast is clearly presented to CBS 6 views as political commentary. Consequently, it is entitled to broad First Amendment protection warranting dismissal. The content also appears to have a defensible factual basis," wrote U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson on Thursday. Hudson's 14-page opinion concluded by granting WTVR's motion to dismiss the suit filed in 2017. The suit stemmed from Sept. 2, 2016 on-air commentary that was followed up by an online article with the headline, "Holmberg: OMG: Sextin' Joe Morrissey is leading the mayor's race!"
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Frederick County Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 Wednesday night to reject proposed amendments to its Rules of Procedure that would have imposed additional restrictions on their conduct and communications with county residents, staff members and the media. Most of the board bristled at the suggested changes, which county Public Information Officer Karen Vacchio said were drafted by county administration and the county attorney. The changes would have: allowed the board to censure a member who repeatedly violated any of the rules in the proposed Code of Conduct; prohibited the supervisors from making “accusatory or disparaging remarks” about fellow members, citizens, staff, employees and committee members at board or committee meetings, and given the board chairman the discretion to determine how many people can speak at a board meeting and for how long.The changes also would have limited board members from discussing or disclosing to the public any matters between the board and legal counsel or legal strategy without approval of the full board and that “whenever appropriate” the Public Information Officer would assist in communications with citizens and the media. Other recommendations would have: required board members to address each other by their formal titles (chairman, vice chairman, etc.), followed by the person’s last name, at meetings; prohibited supervisors from engaging in dialogue with members of the public during hearings or citizen comment periods, and ensured that policy decisions/directions are communicated by the entire board and that no single member provides direction on policy implementation to the County Administrator.
The Winchester Star

Residents will soon be able to watch Augusta County Board of Supervisors meetings from the comfort of their own homes after the board voted Wednesday to live stream their meetings. County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald said the county did two live stream tests, reaching more than 370 people. Pam Carter, who was elected to serve as vice-chair in 2020, asked about the cost associated. Fitzgerald said other than buying a tripod for the camera they already have, there’s no upfront cost. The county is looking into a more heavy duty camera for a “better viewing experience overall,” he added, but doesn’t anticipate it to be an enormous amount.
The News Virginian

stories of national interest

A liberal advocacy group seeking copies of state government emails sent through private accounts made its case to the Michigan Supreme Court Wednesday morning, arguing that release of the emails is a matter of transparency and accountability.   Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, now defending the state in the case originally brought against then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, pressed the justices to dismiss the case based on a technical deficiency — the group’s initial complaint lacked a required verification. Plus, the office’s attorney said, those emails don’t even exist. 
Bridge Michigan

The DTH Media Corp., the parent company of The Daily Tar Heel, filed a legal complaint against the UNC System and Board of Governors Tuesday, claiming that the BOG violated the Open Meetings Law when meeting about the Silent Sam settlement.  The UNC System entered into two agreements in November 2019 with the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans. On Nov. 21, the system agreed to pay $74,999 to limit the SCV’s actions on system campuses. On Nov. 27, the system gave the SCV possession of Silent Sam and a $2.5 million trust for its preservation in a settlement agreement.  “…both agreements with the SCV were conceived, negotiated, approved, and executed in total secrecy in violation of the Open Meetings Law,” the legal complaint from DTH Media Corp. said.  The DTH Media Corp. complaint said the group of BOG members that negotiated the SCV agreements is a “public body,” meaning they are required under North Carolina Public Meetings Law to conduct public meetings, give public notice of them and keep minutes of them. 
The Daily Tar Heel

Surveillance video taken outside of the Manhattan jail cell of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein during his first suicide attempt was permanently deleted, prosecutors said on Thursday. The admission, revealed in a court filing, provides another embarrassing glimpse into the failures by staff at the Metropolitan Correctional Center to adhere to protocol or keep accurate records on the troubled federal detention facility. The request for the video was made by Epstein's former cellmate, Nicholas Tartaglione, who is awaiting trial on four drug-related killings.