Transparency News 11/16/18



November 16, 2018

You can smile on VCOG when you shop on Amazon. Click here!


state & local news stories


A pair of lawsuits over a reporter’s Twitter account have ended with the two sides agreeing to drop their claims. BH Media Group, parent company of The Roanoke Times, had sued Virginia Tech football beat reporter Andy Bitter after Bitter left the Times for The Athletic, where he continued to report on Virginia Tech football. (The Richmond Times-Dispatch also is owned by BH Media.) The Times was contending that the Twitter account Bitter used to provide updates on Virginia Tech football should have remained with the paper, citing that it was given to Bitter by a previous reporter for the newspaper. In a countersuit, Bitter alleged libel by the paper in its reporting on the lawsuit. The two sides were ordered to a settlement conference by the court, which took place Nov. 7. As a result of that conference, both sides agreed to drop their claim against the other, according to court documents.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is asking the city to replace City Councilor Mike Signer on its board after he missed the board’s past four meetings, according to a letter from the commission. Commission chair and Albemarle Supervisor Rick Randolph sent a letter to Mayor Nikuyah Walker last week informing her of Signer’s absence. Signer was appointed to the board on Feb. 1. He hasn’t attended a meeting since July. Signer wrote in an email to the Daily Progress that he has twin 4-year-olds and has had “a series of family conflicts with TJPDC meetings in recent months.” He also wrote that “Due to busy schedules, Councilors frequently miss meetings. Mayor Walker, for instance, has missed several Council meetings this year.”
The Daily Progress

The first public mention of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority overcharging the town nearly $300,000 was made during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. The EDA acknowledges that it owes the town about $291,000 stemming from overcharges related to debt service payments dating back to 2009. Town Attorney Doug Napier said over the phone Wednesday this was discovered in May when the Town Council asked Finance Director B.J. Wilson to examine the standing of fund balances. Councilman John Connolly became the first town official to publicly mention the matter, as previous discussions were held in a series of closed sessions. He said during council’s Tuesday meeting that Napier has drafted a resolution outlining discussions between the town and EDA. When asked why the town did not make the issue public until after a local media outlet reported on it, he said the town wanted to ensure that all figures were accurate. Connolly allowed the media to photograph one page of the resolution’s draft. That page states Napier sent the EDA a Freedom of Information Act request seeking “specific financial documents that the town’s finance director and the town’s auditor need to see to make an informed judgment as to the town’s financial standing with respect to the EDA.” The resolution states that the FOIA response was due Aug. 24.
The Northern Virginia Daily

Virginia Beach staff has recommended denial of a rezoning request that would clear the way for a subdivision on either side of Princess Anne Road in the heart of Pungo because developers have not submitted enough information about how they will handle stormwater at the proposed “agrihood” known as Harvest Farms. Bill DeSteph, a state senator and former member of the City Council, is among the developers operating as Pungo Property, LLC. In an interview, DeSteph on Thursday, Nov. 8, said the development team has not completed its stormwater analysis because it is still waiting on data from the city. The city provided The Independent News with email correspondence related to the data after the newspaper asked for it.
The Princess Anne Independent News

national stories of interest

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing - a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets. The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote "due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged." Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would "need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested." 
Richmond Times-Dispatch





editorials & columns


"The government should be in the business of protecting the public’s right to public records, not in the business of scheming with private companies to keep them secret."

The most objectionable part of the Amazon deal doesn’t involve money, at all. It’s Virginia’s agreement to help shield the company from the state’s open records law, the Freedom of Information Act. If anyone files a FOIA request for Amazon-related documents the state possesses, the state has promised to give the company a two-day notice before it actually releases them so Amazon can “seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy.” This ought not be allowed. The government should be in the business of protecting the public’s right to public records, not in the business of scheming with private companies to keep them secret. The General Assembly ought to respond by passing a law to ban the state from cutting this kind of deal.
The Roanoke Times

Charlottesville has a long history of white supremacy as well as opposition to it. Still, for many people in the city, the events of the weekend catalyzed a newfound commitment to racial justice. Residents began to fill auditoriums to hear activists speak. City council and school board meetings transformed. Talk of resistance started to feel promising. For the local press, however, the rally and its aftermath have not led to a reckoning.
Columbia Journalism Review