Transparency News, 11/18/20


 November 18, 2020
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state & local news stories

"Authority members can’t reply to speakers during public comment, according to the new bylaws."
The FOIA Council has a subcommittee meeting TODAY @ 2 p.m.
It's about electronic meetings, specifically when and how often someone can call into a meeting instead of attending in person. See below for an editorial on why the council should grant some flexibility but not eliminate limits.
Use this link to view the meeting agenda.

A subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council advanced legislation Tuesday that would expand transparency for criminal investigative files and make them subject to the Freedom of Information Act with certain conditions. House Bill 5090, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, would allow people to request all criminal investigative files through the FOIA process. Police departments would be required to release these files unless a judge rules the release would jeopardize an ongoing investigation or cause harm, which would include jeopardizing the privacy of victims. A case would no longer be considered ongoing when it has been adjudicated or evidence would stop being collected.
The Center Square

The Albemarle County Economic Development Authority will now take public comment at its monthly meetings. At its virtual meeting on Tuesday, authority members approved an amendment to its bylaws to add 15 minutes of public comment to its meetings. The move comes after more than a year after requests from community members for more transparency about economic development projects and decisions in Albemarle. Public comment will be limited to 15 minutes total and each speaker will be allowed up to 3 minutes. They may only speak on topics “germane or materially related to matters on the authority’s meeting agenda.” Authority members can’t reply to speakers during public comment, according to the new bylaws. To accommodate more speakers, the chair can limit commenters to two minutes.
The Daily Progress

Just 1.3% of the 7,843 arrests by Winchester police between 2017-19 involved officers using force, according to newly released information from the city police department. Police Chief John R. Piper said the data, which was released on the department’s website Monday, is designed to educate the public and increase transparency. He said the low percentage may reduce misconceptions that force is often used in arrests. Piper said the next step will be including the gender and race of suspects who had force used on them. That’s expected to occur when this year’s statistics are released in January or February.
The Winchester Star
stories from around the country

As Iowa sees a record number of hospitalizations, the state will not allow local public health departments to release data from specific hospitals. KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Unit learned the state gathers and maintains data from individual hospitals on a service called the Iowa Health Alert Network. The data includes situational information, which includes data on hospital capacity and resources. But, the Iowa Department of Public Health will not allow local public health officials to release the information to the public. The data available to the public is released on the state’s COVID-19 portal. But, it only includes hospital bed information across the entire state or a region. This data could give that information for specific hospitals and counties.

editorials & columns
"It could mean members never have to share the same physical space with their colleagues or members of the public. That would be deeply problematic."
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council, the legislative body tasked with reviewing and writing laws about government transparency, will meet today to discuss H.B. 321, introduced by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. That bill proposes some changes to the state’s rules governing electronic meetings, allowing members of government boards to attend virtually more often. Specifically, it makes accommodations for members who are “unable to attend due to a serious medical condition of an immediate family member that prevents the member’s physical attendance” by allowing them to participate through video- or teleconference. It would limit such participation to no more than two meetings per calendar year or 10% of meetings in a given year, whichever is greater. The aim is to allow some flexibility for physical attendance while affording members an opportunity to deal with medical emergencies. Leave it there, and it would be a solution — albeit an imperfect one — to a problem made more apparent and acute by the pandemic.“Imperfect” because nothing is an ideal substitute for in-person meetings in public spaces that take place in full view of the governed. There is a push for the law to be expanded beyond what Levin proposes, for public bodies to have greater latitude to meet online. It could mean members never have to share the same physical space with their colleagues or members of the public. That would be deeply problematic. It’s antithetic to the idea of a government that should be open and accountable to the people, and it increases the likelihood of malfeasance and secrecy, intended or not.
The Virginian-Pilot