Transparency News, 1/11/2022


January 11, 2022

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state & local news stories


Watch this space for VCOG's annual bill chart. LOTS of bills will be posted this week, so check back frequently and throughout the session.

After initially resisting release of public records even when faced with litigation, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science has opted to turn over documents related to the wrongful conviction of Earl Washington Jr. ahead of a scheduled Freedom of Information Act trial on Tuesday. “We sincerely appreciate DFS’s decision to produce the Tinsley blood test results, given the tragic history of the Earl Washington matter,” Mark Dix, the attorney who made the filing for Hall, said in a statement. “As a result, Mr. Hall has elected to nonsuit his FOIA lawsuit.” Although nothing in the law prevented the Department of Forensic Science from turning over the blood test results on Tinsley, the agency director withheld them because she wasn’t required to turn them over. She argues that a part of Virginia’s FOIA that requires mandatory release of certain law-enforcement records doesn’t apply to the Department of Forensic Science because it’s not a law enforcement agency. Hall disagrees with that. It remains unresolved whether that provision of FOIA that mandates release of certain criminal records applies to the Department of Forensic Science. Linda C. Jackson, director of the department, said in a statement for this story: “The Department elected, in its discretion, to release the entire case file from Mr. Tinsley’s case to Mr. Hall due to the historical nature of Mr. Washington’s exoneration and the allegations made against the Department by Mr. Hall in the affidavit accompanying his suit.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Spotsylvania County School Board fired Superintendent Scott Baker without cause during an unruly meeting Monday.  The board voted to approve Baker's termination without cause after coming out of a closed session that may have violated Virginia's open meeting requirements.  Virginia Code states that no closed meeting shall be held unless the public body first approves a motion that states the subject matter and purpose of the meeting, as well as the applicable exemption from open meeting requirements. "A general reference to the provisions of this chapter, the authorized exemptions from open meeting requirements, or the subject matter of the closed meeting shall not be sufficient to satisfy the requirements for holding a closed meeting," Virginia Code states.  The closed session, during which Baker's position was discussed, was the second closed session of the meeting and was not on the approved agenda.  Board members did not appear to vote on a motion to enter the second closed session. Salem District representative Lorita Daniels asked for a legal opinion on whether the second closed session would violate the Freedom of Information Act, but Livingston District representative Kirk Twigg, who had been elected chairman earlier in the meeting, did not respond to her request.
The Free Lance-Star
Watch the 8-minute video of the motion to terminate the superintendent's employment and then the vote on it. It's a doozy.

Former Dayton Town Manager John Crim pleaded guilty last month as part of a deal stemming from charges of illegally accessing town emails, according to court documents. Crim, 75, was initially charged with a two Class 6 felonies of computer trespass, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanor computer trespass, according to court documents. Crim was accused of accessing the accounts during the summer of a 2018 run for mayor after he had resigned as town manager. He ultimately dropped out of the race several months later. Prosecutors said Crim sought to find emails that would show the Dayton Police Department was told to decrease writing traffic tickets during the tourist season, according to court documents.
Daily News Record

On Monday, officials with the Virginia state court system asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit to force courts to make public court records available online.  Judge Henry Hudson hasn’t announced yet whether he’ll toss the case, but urged all parties involved to ask the General Assembly to deal with the issue through legislation. The national legal publication Courthouse News Service sued the executive secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia and the clerk of the Circuit Court for Prince William County in September for denying the service and the general public remote access to civil filings. Virginia law grants remote access to attorneys and their staff through Virginia’s online database, ‘Virginia  Officer  of  the  Court  Remote  Access’ (OCRA). But the public, including the media, must travel in person to the courthouse where the relevant lawsuit was filed to access civil, non confidential, public court filings.  “There’s an easy legislative remedy here,” Hudson said during Monday’s hearing. Attorneys for the state argued remote access would encourage data mining. Hudson noted that any person can already get the same information by going in person to the clerk's office.

When Chesapeake’s new school board chair took his seat on the dais Monday night, he wanted to make clear his stance on recent behavior surrounding school board meetings. During an emergency meeting on New Year’s Eve, school security was directed to move two individuals out of the meeting; and for a brief time, the acting chair directed the entire room cleared after several started screaming at board members. In the days after, threats toward school board members on social media were handed over to the Chesapeake Police Department, per a school division spokesperson. Ahead of the meeting, the division sent four “no trespassing” letters to people who were disruptive and “speaking in an obscene manner” on Dec. 31. 10 On Your Side was able to view a copy of one such letter and it stated the individual was “suspended from attending a School Board meeting in person for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.”

editorials & columns


How many times have you heard someone say something won’t work because “we’re different”? This statement is often associated with IT folks who say that “our IT environment is too complex” or “we’ve got a different culture here” or “we have too much legacy technology to be innovative” or any one of a hundred other reasons. While there will always be a few organizations whose missions do require unique solutions, the reality is that very few are really all that special when it comes to IT, and I’m convinced that government agencies served by IT teams that foster or accept these kinds of expectation limitations will always be less secure than they might be. So why do so many departments and smaller subordinate organizations within large state and local government enterprises continue to own and manage so much of their own IT infrastructure and service offerings? Is the requirement for email service that different between agencies and departments? Are training needs so unique that different agencies need different applications? With vast data stores in both on-premises data centers and in the cloud, are multiple data management platforms the most efficient way of providing information security? Are multiple help desk infrastructures really necessary?
Mark Weatherford, Governing