Transparency News, 11/19/20


 November 19, 2020
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state & local news stories
“I accept the reprimand they issued to me while I remain committed to continuing to be transparent and open on social media when to comes to the greater good and safety of our community including all staff and students.”
Yesterday, a subcommittee of the FOIA Council endorsed a proposal to expand the opportunities and number of times a member of a board can call into a meeting instead of being physically present. A limitless category was added for when a member is required to provide care for a family member's illness. And the number of times was increased from just two per year to up to 25% of the meetings. There's still appetite for saying people can phone in any time each and every meeting, which VCOG opposes, so we're still keeping an eye on things.

The subcommittee also considered a proposal to codify virtual meetings procedures in the event of an emergency that lasts for more than 30 days. The so-called "pandemic" proposal was the work product of the Virginia Press Association, VCOG, the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Counties, and several attorneys for local and regional public bodies. It's not often that the FOIA Council gets such a kumbaya kind of proposal, and yet... The subcommittee saw fit to lop off the 30-day language PLUS language that is in existing code. We're not sure why a non-member was allowed to participate in the discussion and make some of these suggestions when no other non-member was allowed.

It's a frustrating turn of events, so it's my hope that more people will tune into the conversation (and testify?) at the full council meeting the first week in December. They need to hear from the people these changes will impact.

(BTW, I was dismissively referred to during discussion of the first bill as "Some Woman from a Sunshine Group" who opposed the original bill when it went through the General Assembly. I've changed my Twitter name accordingly. LOL!)


A Rockingham County judge denied a local immigrant advocacy group’s claim that Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act when he refused to release information about immigration detainers on inmates booked into the jail. The ruling was issued in a letter sent to attorneys on Nov. 12 following arguments in Rockingham County Circuit Court on Nov. 10. In his ruling, Judge T.J. Wilson wrote that the information being sought was specific to an individual inmate, which would make it exempt from FOIA.
The Daily News Record

The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday night issued a formal reprimand to a member who was found to have disclosed on social media confidential information presented by the division attorney during a closed meeting. Following a closed session to discuss the issue, the School Board voted unanimously to affirm that the information disclosed was subject to attorney-client privilege and should remain confidential. In a separate motion, members voted 6-2-1 to publicly reprimand Beth Barts (Leesburg) for the violation of board rules. Barts declined to participate in the closed meeting. In a Facebook post following the vote, Barts wrote, “I accept the reprimand they issued to me while I remain committed to continuing to be transparent and open on social media when to comes to the greater good and safety of our community including all staff and students.” She added, “Please note—A reprimand is “an official rebuke”. It has no impact on voting privileges or my standing as an elected representative."

Prosecutors are asking a judge to order the city of Newport News to turn over the full personnel files for two police officers charged in a man’s killing late last year. The prosecutors say the Newport News City Attorney’s Office has declined to hand over the records for Sgt. Albin T. Pearson and Officer Dwight A. Pitterson, who are charged in the Dec. 27 death of Henry K. “Hank” Berry III during an attempted arrest. They want Circuit Court Judge Margaret Poles Spencer — the retired Richmond judge assigned to the case — to step in and order the “full, unredacted” files be turned over. The prosecutors with the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office — handling the case after Newport News prosecutors recused themselves — want any and all records of past complaints against the officers, including any related body camera footage and disciplinary records. They also want any and all emails on the city’s email system in which Pearson or Pitterson wrote about the case.  The personnel records of government employees are considered public in several states. But there’s a broad exemption under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act allowing such records to be shielded. “The special prosecutors have attempted to secure the personnel files of both defendants without the use of the judicial system by engaging in a dialog with the Newport News City Attorney’s Office, with no results,” the motion says.
Daily Press
stories from around the country

The National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information are pleased to announce the publication of NFOIC's latest research paper, "Invisible Incentives: How Secrecy Impedes Evaluation and Accountability of Economic Development Subsidies."   Secrecy in economic development spending remains a big challenge for journalists and the public at every level of government. Details of many state and local jurisdictions' incentive packages to attract Tesla, Foxconn, and Amazon’s HQ2 have still not been disclosed. And now, the federal CARES Act, where the names and amounts of more than four million recipients of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans remain undisclosed.


editorials & columns
"Of the states that do limit the length of legislative sessions, Virginia appears to be pretty much in the middle."
It takes seven to ten minutes to boil an egg, depending on how firm you want the yolk to be. It takes 30 to 50 minutes to bake a cake, depending on what kind of cake it is. All those are known facts of science. But how long does it take to make laws, especially good ones? That’s answer is more like art and beauty — it’s in the eye of the beholder. For now, let’s turn to the specific question at issue — the length of Virginia’s legislative sessions. How do the length of our General Assembly sessions compare to those of other states? That, like boiling an egg or baking a cake, is a matter of science — specifically the search algorithm that leads us to the websites for the National Conference of State Legislatures and Ballotpedia, both of which have a handy list of session lengths in each state. Ballotpedia says 10 states have full-time legislatures — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — although defining “full-time” is apparently a term of art. Even some of those states have limits on how long the legislature can meet.  Four other states don’t have full-time legislatures but don’t impose any artificial lengths on sessions, either. Of the states that do limit the length of legislative sessions, Virginia appears to be pretty much in the middle. 
The Roanoke Times

The term “contactless” has become increasingly popular in recent months, thanks to the resilience of COVID-19. Demand for digital and no-touch services has grown by 20 percent in the U.S., according to the consulting firm McKinsey, and governments have responded, ramping up online portals and services, rolling out contactless transit systems, enabling remote visits by social workers, and enlisting chatbots to support surging demand in call centers. Government leaders face new challenges as they seek to maintain momentum beyond the pandemic. Here are 10 areas to focus on: . . . 5. Rethinking public meetings. 
Mark Toner, Governing