Transparency News, 1/11/2023


January 11, 2023

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state & local news stories


"Specifically, the group asked the city to disclose more information about where the money directed to the victims’ families has gone."

The General Assembly session begins today for what is supposed to be a 46-day session (with all the political back-biting, it's hard to say). VCOG will be following 50 or so bills, as it does each year, some more closely than others. Check out our annual bill chart, which is updated twice a day by BillTrack 50. Citizens can sign up for a free account with BillTrack 50. VCOG is granted access to the paid version of the system via its membership in the National FOI Coalition (VCOG is also the administrator for NFOIC).

A bill VCOG asked to be filed is up today in the Senate General Laws Committee. It's SB 813 and its aim is to prevent public bodies from blacking out the name of the employee card-holder on a  government-issued credit card statement.

You can watch the committee meeting here. The time is 30 minutes after adjournment of the floor session, maybe around 2:00, but it's hard to say with certainty. You can watch the session from the same committee link to keep track.

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The families of several victims of the May 31, 2019, Virginia Beach mass shooting gathered Tuesday to call for greater transparency and respect from the city. The families rallied outside the municipal center to draw attention to their concerns the day before the Virginia Beach Mass Shooting Commission is set to meet in Richmond. Five of the families are represented by former Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who said the group is considering legal options. Operating under the name “5/31 Families United,” the families accused the city of, among other things, not doing enough to support them financially and not being transparent over the course of the investigation into the shooting. Specifically, the group asked the city to disclose more information about where the money directed to the victims’ families has gone.
The Virginian-Pilot

Interim Portsmouth City Manager Mimi Terry said Tuesday that all gift cards containing the city’s pandemic relief funds have been properly stored and accounted for, pushing back against an earlier allegation from the former city manager. In November, former City Manager Tonya Chapman said an internal investigation with her staff found that around $80,000 out of more than $3 million in gift cards earmarked for direct relief to seniors and other residents struggling from the impacts of the pandemic weren’t securely stored or might not have been properly accounted for under Angel Jones, whom she replaced last summer. She also questioned the process used for distributing the cards because the list of residents who received the cards included duplicate names and IDs and not all gift cards were distributed. Portsmouth Accountant Administrator Kyera Pope told City Council members Tuesday that the internal investigation, conducted by accountants in the Finance Department, spanned three days last week and ultimately showed “no gift cards are missing and no money is missing.” It did not cost anything to conduct, she added, and it reviewed invoices, delivery tickets, packing slips, program participant applications and participant sign-in sheets.
The Virginian-Pilot

Former Montgomery County Superintendent Mark Miear appeared before his former school board Tuesday night where he finally broke months of silence on the events he said led to his dismissal last March. Miear, who now works for Minnick Schools, capped his comments by announcing his plan to run for school board in District B, the area currently represented by longtime school board member Penny Franklin. Miear, who spent just over six years as MCPS chief, said his dismissal — which the board unanimously approved on March 17 — was rooted to his objection to his transgender child’s decision to change their name. He said he also wasn’t given due process before being fired. “I feel that after six years of being the superintendent in this county, I still deserved due process and at least the opportunity to share my side of what transpired that day,” Miear said. “I admittedly lost my temper on March 10 when speaking with Dr. [Annie] Whitaker about my own child. I sincerely want to publicly apologize for that. I acted in the capacity of an upset parent, not as superintendent. Yet, you dismissed me without even talking to me.” Miear said he learned that the board decided March 11 to dismiss him — a move they formalized about a week later in a short meeting that involved a closed session. Miear and several board members declined to speak on the decision at the time, with the elected body citing the issue as a personnel matter.
The Roanoke Times

From architecture to gun violence, economic development to towing, Roanoke City relies on everyday citizens to volunteer on various boards and commissions. Roanoke City Council appoints those citizens to advise the local government on policies. But dozens of people serving on such citizen boards do not live in the city, according to data released to The Rambler under a public records request, despite the city code limiting service to Roanoke residents except in “an unusual circumstance.”
Roanoke Rambler

A standing-room-only crowd applauded loudly at 7:30 Tuesday night when Martinsville City Council voted 3 to 2 to end reversion. Martinsville City Council voted unanimously on Dec. 10, 2019, to authorize the initiation of reversion, council member Tammy Pearson read from the resolution. “A majority of Council now believes the reversion process should be stopped,” she read.
Martinsville Bulletin

The Warren County Circuit Court has received a grant of almost $40,820 to preserve and digitize records dating to the 1800s. Clerk of the Circuit Court Angela Moore announced Tuesday that her office received the award through the Circuit Court Records Preservation Grants Program. Moore said her office plans to use the grant money to preserve superior court chancery and common-law orders from the mid-1830s through the mid-1860s; an 1892-1893 deed book; and land books covering 1861-1889 and 1925. The office plans to digitize the records and make them available to the public through the clerk’s online records management system.
The Northern Virginia Daily

Some Warrenton Town Council members may have been quietly planning small meetings with Amazon representatives outside of the public process regarding the company’s application to build a data center in the town, according to several local residents. Late last week, three local residents told the Piedmont Journalism Foundation that Councilwoman Heather Sutphin (Ward 1) told them she had met with Amazon on Wednesday morning, Jan. 3. According to those residents, Sutphin said she had learned that the company planned to announce on Jan. 10 that it would move toward a quieter cooling system. Sutphin, according to the residents, said her meeting was one of several planned that would include two council members at a time to avoid violating the state’s open meetings law – which views a meeting of three or more members as an official meeting and must be open to the public. According to the residents, Sutphin said the meetings were designed so all council members could get questions answered in the leadup to the Jan. 10 town council meeting on the Amazon application. It could not be determined at press time if or when any other council members had met with Amazon. Three council members who are known to be skeptical of the project said they had not heard of the meetings.
Fauquier Times

A petition to ban “hate speech” during public comments at Loudoun County Public Schools board meetings raises questions about how it is defined and who defines it. By Tuesday afternoon, 957 people had signed the petition. The petition, started by Andrew Pihonak, was prompted by comments made at a Dec. 13 board meeting. It was the first meeting after the firing and subsequent indictment of former Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler over the student-on-student sexual assault scandal in 2021.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

stories of national interest

"The White House confirmed that the Department of Justice was reviewing 'a small number of documents with classified markings' found at Biden's office."

President Joe Biden said he was surprised when informed that government records were found by his attorneys at his former office space in Washington. He was asked about the issue after the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee requested that the U.S. intelligence community conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents. Speaking to reporters in Mexico City on Tuesday, Biden said his attorneys “did what they should have done” when they immediately called the National Archives about the discovery at the offices of the Penn Biden Center. He kept an office there after he left the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his Democratic presidential campaign in 2019. The White House confirmed that the Department of Justice was reviewing “a small number of documents with classified markings” found at the office.
Associated Press

The U.S. House adopted rules for the 118th Congress on Monday, though several of the concessions Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with more conservative members of the Republican Party to secure the gavelweren’t included in the document or publicly circulated ahead of the vote.  The 55-page rules package the House voted nearly party-line 220-213 to adopt sets the parameters for how bills should be written, how committees will operate and how the floor will run during the next two years. The majority in every Congress writes its own such rules.
Virginia Mercury