Transparency News, 1/12/21


 January 12, 2021
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state & local news stories
New bills have been added to VCOG's bill chart, including one to change the definition of "meeting" to be when four members of a public body get together, up from three. Another bill offers a proposal for reforming FOIA's fee provisions.
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After more than 15 hours in closed meetings in less than a week, the Charlottesville City Council is still silently chipping away at resolving issues that contribute to its current “leadership crisis.” On Monday, the council’s latest meeting lasted for 5½ hours and ended with no actions taken, but Councilor Michael Payne said it won’t stay that way for much longer.  While he agrees with the City Council’s recent meetings being out of the eye of the public, he said it’s important that the city’s legislative body communicate with the public about “the specifics of the leadership crisis and what steps are necessary to change the dynamics that led to this point.”  According to Megan Rhyne, executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, calling for emergency closed door meetings is legal and not unprecedented for any body of government.  “It’s commonplace. That’s why there are 40 or 50 some exemptions in the code to allow for closed door sessions,” Rhyne explained. 
Charlottesville Tomorrow

A translation problem on the Virginia Department of Health website apparently has been telling Spanish readers they don’t need the coronavirus vaccine. The issue came up during a Virginia Vaccination Advisory Workgroup telemeeting Monday. Dr. Rebecca Vargas-Jackson, a member of the group, said her students at George Mason University were the first to bring it to her attention. Before the faulty translation, the English passage simply meant the vaccine wasn’t mandatory, she said.
The Virginian-Pilot

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase at Middle River Regional Jail, the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing for the jail’s expansion and modification plans during Wednesday’s meeting. County Administrator Stephen King said anyone will be allowed to comment. With the meeting being conducted in person and electronically, those who want to attend virtually can sign up to comment on the county’s website. Written comments will also be accepted by email.
Daily News Record
stories from around the country
More than $6 million in taxpayer money flowed to Austin (Texas) nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but taxpayers might never learn the identities of the organizations that got the money or get a chance to dig into their stated need for assistance. Citing a little-known state law that government transparency experts are only now learning exists, the city has refused to turn over a list of the 365 nonprofits that were granted the funds.
Austin American-Statesman

The Montana Supreme Court opinion dismissing a former soccer coach’s claim the University of Montana violated his privacy when it released information from an audit of his cellphone underscores a long-held legal principle in the Treasure State, according to a lawyer with expertise in open government. “If a public employee occupies a position of public trust, then they have a diminished right of privacy in the terms and conditions of their employment,” said Helena lawyer Mike Meloy, who is one of the state’s leading experts on public information and press freedom. Former UM women’s soccer coach Mark Plakorus sued the University of Montana after it refused to renew his contract having found alleged private contacts with Las Vegas escort services. In the lawsuit, Plakorus alleged UM unlawfully disclosed private information about him, defamed him, and violated his privacy. In the Dec. 15 decision, the state high court agreed with the district court’s decision to dismiss the allegations of privacy violations but remanded the defamation claim back to the trial court.
Missoula Current