Transparency News, 1/12/2022


January 12, 2022

Happy first day of the 2022 General Assembly session!

state & local news stories


Watch this space for VCOG's annual bill chart.
The chart is updated each morning by 8 a.m.

The Loudoun County school division is withholding the report from the independent investigation into the handling of two related sexual assaults in Loudoun high schools. The School Board hired Fairfax County-based law firm Blankingship & Keith, conduct the investigation. Responding to a request for the report, school division spokesman Wayde Byard wrote: “The report is complete. It is being withheld from disclosure in its entirety under Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(2) relating to materials protected under the attorney client privilege. Furthermore, portions of the record are being withheld from disclosure under Code § 2.2-3705.4(A)(1) relating to scholastic information and Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(1) relating to personnel information concerning identifiable individuals.”
Loudoun Now

The Harrisonburg City Council approved an emergency declaration Tuesday, sending public meetings back online for at least a monthand raising the alarm that the community’s sharp increase in COVID-19 cases will further strain an overstretched health care system.  The council, in what was the city’s last in-person public meeting for a while, unanimously ratified the emergency order that interim city manager Ande Banks proposed earlier Tuesday. The order requires all city public meetings, including Wednesday evening’s planning commission meeting, to shift online to prevent them from becoming spreader events because of the contagious Omicron variant. City leaders said the order is expected to be in place for 30-45 days and applies only to public meetings. It doesn’t limit private gatherings.
The Citizen

Three Staunton City Council members called a special meeting of the Staunton City Council on Jan. 11 in regards to the uncertain future of the Augusta County Courthouse in an apparent bid to improve public transparency and feedback about the plan. Staunton city staff prepared an agenda packet in advance so that citizens would be able to have a productive discussion with their city council members. Vice Mayor Mark Robertson and council members Terry Holmes and Brenda Mead were present inside the council chambers, and council member Carolyn Dull provided advance notice that she would not be able to attend in-person but would attend virtually. Staunton city staff members also attended the meeting to help answer questions from the public. But a few minutes after the meeting started, it was stopped abruptly when Mayor Andrea Oakes and council members Amy Darby and Stephen Claffey did not attend. Without a quorum present, city staff had to leave the council chambers and the meeting could not continue. 
News Leader

stories of national interest

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Josh Renaud discovered a major security flaw on a Missouri state website last October. With a simple right-click and some elementary decoding, he found that anyone with a web browser could view thousands of educators’ Social Security numbers. Soon after, the governor of Missouri vowed to prosecute him for “hacking.” Why did the governor decide to go after the reporter? I recently obtained several hundred pages of emails sent among the governor’s staff that showed the hour-by-hour decision-making by Parson’s top aides, such as first describing Renaud as an “individual” before dubbing him a “hacker.” Some of those notes were first reported by the Post-Dispatch, while others I received under open-records laws revealed general disinclination to speak to the press. For example, in response to a request to appear on Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN, Parson’s office cheerily responded: “Unfortunately, Governor Parson is not available. Take care!”

editorials & columns

"The final maps openly and diligently considered this input, with the special masters’ memo even including an itemized list of changes made based on specific comments they received.""

Even though there were times when Virginia’s new redistricting process was unquestionably messy, frustrating and difficult, it still worked. For starters, it worked because of unprecedented public input. Throughout the past year, thousands of Virginians gave map-drawers feedback in real time — from emails to testimony at more than 50 public meetings to submitting 2,000-plus comments on various map proposals. This is a seismic shift when compared to the opaque handshake dealings of the past. What’s more, the final maps openly and diligently considered this input, with the special masters’ memo even including an itemized list of changes made based on specific comments they received. This by far was the most transparent redistricting process Virginia voters ever have seen.
Deb Wake and Liz White, Richmond Times-Dispatch