Transparency News, 1/10/2023


January 10, 2023

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state & local news stories


"Those recommendations include ... conducting “quasi-public” parole hearings that the media could potentially observe."

A former Southwest Virginia judge appointed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to lead the Virginia Parole Board released a detailed report this month calling for a major overhaul of a state body he said has suffered from a lack of resources and too much secrecy. In a 28-page report to the governor, Parole Board Chairman Chadwick Dotson made a series of recommendations on how the General Assembly could reform the five-person board that reviews inmates’ petitions for release and decides whether they should be granted or denied.  Those recommendations include increasing staff at an agency that only has 10 full-time employees and 29 part-time workers, adding another member to the board and conducting “quasi-public” parole hearings that the media could potentially observe. Dotson also stressed that Parole Board votes are now a matter of public record, and that he has instructed staff to provide as much information as possible in response to information requests, even when the state’s Freedom of Information Act makes disclosure optional. To ensure the public has confidence in what the Parole Board is doing, Dotson said, the agency “must embrace an over-the-top level of transparency.” 
Virginia Mercury

In a previously unreported letter obtained by The Times, the head of the Virginia State Police detailed errors in his agency’s hiring of Austin Lee Edwards, the now-deceased “catfish” cop who killed three people in Riverside in late November. Although Edwards had told the agency about his 2016 visit to a psychiatric facility, the agency failed to search databases for his mental health history before hiring him as an officer, Col. Gary Settle, the state police superintendent, wrote in the letter, which was addressed to a post office box associated with Virginia’s inspector general. The mistake was due to an arcane difference in the search codes background investigators are supposed to use while screening aspiring cops, Settle wrote. The investigator who handled Edwards’ background check used a code for “applicants” and failed to include one for “firearms,” which would have brought up all Virginia mental health orders.
Los Angeles Times

Spotsylvania School Board members Lorita Daniels and Rabih Abuismail attended a town hall meeting Sunday evening to hear community input about proposed changes to the public comments policy and school budget priorities. Residents who addressed the board members were overwhelmingly opposed to a change to the public comments policy that would limit the number of speakers per topic to three. The community members asked for more civility and respect between board members and between the board and the public this year, and identified capital improvements, special education, student mental health and staff salaries as top budget priorities. Daniels and Abuismail, who last year were on opposing sides of most votes, brought up the idea of the town hall with a group of Spotsylvania citizens, who then arranged the date and location.
The Free Lance-Star

In a 4-3 vote during Monday's meeting, the Spotsylvania County school board elected Lisa Phelps as its new chair. Prior to Monday's meeting, 7News heard from some parents who said they hoped the new chair would be able to help restore order to the school board’s meetings. 7News also spoke to Clarence Collins, president of the Spotsylvania Education Association, ahead of Monday's school board vote to elect a new chair. "I'm hesitant to point out any one board member," Collins said, when asked about contentious board meetings over the last year. "We are modeling behavior for our students. So we need to work on doing that." 7News requested an interview with Twigg on Monday, but we were told he’s unavailable. He has not agreed to an on-camera interview request at any point over the last year.
Note from Fredericksburg Today: "Board members met for nearly nine hours. The meeting concluded about 2:30 this morning."

While the debate over the fate of Charlottesville’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee raged on in Charlottesville Circuit Court Monday, at least one argument was laid to rest. The statue has not been melted down. Attorney Richard Milnor and others present Monday did not disclose where the disassembled statue is being kept. A gag order signed in October prevents parties in the case from disclosing its exact location. The city is being sued by the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation, organizations which tried and failed to purchase the statue before the city gave the monument to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The Jefferson School plans to melt down statue and use the bronze for future public art. The two plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to stop the statue’s destruction and relaunch the bid process, arguing the sale to the Jefferson School was illegal and the bidding process violated state and local policies. Judge Paul Peatross on Monday dismissed one of those arguments, that the city violated open-government law when it took a vote shortly after midnight on Dec. 7, 2021, to give the statue — which had been removed five months earlier from what’s now called Market Street Park — to the Jefferson School.
The Daily Progress

On the eve of its public hearing with Amazon Data Services, nearly all members of the Warrenton Town Council are staying quiet about where they stand on the tech giant’s application to build a 220,000-square-foot data center located off the corner of Blackwell Road and Lee Highway, and it remains unclear whether the council will take a vote on Tuesday. One question still remaining is whether Ward 5 council member Jay Heroux will recuse himself from voting on the Amazon data center application. Last week, FauquierNow reported Heroux is the vice president of an IT consulting company, Definitive Logic, which has a business relationship with Amazon Web Services. Several constituents have asked Heroux to recuse himself. Heroux told FauquierNow he would leave that decision in the hands of the Town Attorney Martin Crim, who will make a final judgment about whether a conflict of interest exists.