Transparency News, 11/23/21


November 23, 2021
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state & local news stories
Two moms, Debra Tisler and Callie Oettinger, are on a mission to expose how the school board is spending taxpayer money and more. The moms say they have been concerned with FCPS for years. This fall, Tisler requested documents on how the school board is spending taxpayer dollars through the Freedom of Information Act. After FCPS handed over more than 1,300 pages of information, the moms posted some of the documents on their website for others to read. FCPS took the Fairfax County moms to court, asking a Fairfax Circuit Court judge to censor the information on the mom’s website in a preliminary injunction motion. This past week, the judge denied most of the school district’s request delivering a legal win to the mom’s seeking transparency. FCPS said it filed suit against the moms after they refused to accept corrected copies and proceeded to disseminate some of the original records on the internet. In a statement, a school district spokesperson said “FCPS does not support the deliberate and intentional sharing of sensitive student or employee information.” “I did not publish information specific to students or personnel files, although this is what FCPS has led others to believe - and the focus of FCPS's case,” Oettinger said. “Very few of the 1,316 pages were about children/personnel files. I published all 1,316 pages, as well as the 10,000+ redactions that FCPS wanted to add to its initial FOIA response. I redacted all pages in advance of publishing them.”

Draft reports by the Prince William County Racial and Social Justice Commission broadly commend county practices while acknowledging areas of needed growth and further study. The three draft committee reports were presented to the commission Nov. 18 during a meeting marked by disagreements, heated exchanges and personal jabs, leaving members visibly angry and frustrated. The reports were displayed on screens at the meeting but not immediately made available to the public. InsideNoVa obtained copies of the reports following the meeting by filing a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request
Inside NoVa

Richmond prosecutors will no longer pursue charges against a woman who was arrested by Richmond police last month as she filmed two officers interacting with a homeless woman near the Whole Foods store on West Broad Street. Richmond police arrested Khalah Sabbakhan on Oct. 4 for allegedly trespassing on private property and interfering in the arrest of the other woman, who had a warrant for a trespassing charge at the same location in the 2000 block of West Marshall Street a week before. Sabbakhan said the officers violently slammed her to the street, causing injuries to her head and arm. Police said Sabbakhan caused her injuries. Sabbakhan’s arrest last month raised questions about police accountability, use of force and transparency after a spokesman for the department said she was responsible for her injuries. Sabbakhan’s video ends abruptly when one of the officers appears to grab her phone and say “stop.” A video filmed by a witness who heard the commotion picks up with two officers pinning Sabbakhan to the ground as she yelled that they were hurting her. The Richmond Police Department has yet to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for body camera footage from the incident, which would shed light on the moments in between the two cellphone videos. A department spokesperson said an answer is not due until Tuesday.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Loudoun County supervisors will this year ask the General Assembly for legislation allowing the county board to seize the powers of the Loudoun County Public Library Board of Trustees. Like the School Board, although the Board of Supervisors provides the budget for the public libraries, the Board of Trustees is the library’s governing body, deciding on library programming and how to use those funds. Unlike the modern School Board with elected representatives, members of the library board are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and the library system leans on the county for administrative functions like human resources and payroll management. But County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) likened the library board to the county’s other advisory boards. County supervisors came into conflict with the library Board of Trustees in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when they decided—by email, rather than in a public meeting, and with no advance notice—that they would take over the Rust and Ashburn library buildings to use for daytime childcare services for county employees while schools were closed. County Attorney Leo Rogers reasoned that because the buildings are owned by the county government, the Board of Supervisors could do that.
stories from around the country
A legislative investigation released Monday found "overwhelming evidence" that former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo engaged in sexual harassment and ordered state workers to help produce his book during work hours. The report also found that Cuomo's executive chamber"substantially revised" a state report to exclude deaths of nursing home residents at hospitals to boost Cuomo's reputation.

Kevin Spacey and his production companies must pay the studio behind “House of Cards” more than $30 million because of losses brought on by his firing for sexual misconduct, according to an arbitration decision made final Monday. The ruling came after a legal fight of more than three years and an eight-day evidentiary hearing that was kept secret from the public, along with the rest of the dispute. Spacey appealed the decision to a panel of three more private arbitrators, who found for the plaintiffs, making the decision final, and public, on Monday.
Associated Press

editorials & opinion
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, which studies open government issues, voted recently to recommend a bill to limit fees for public records. Del. Danica Roem, D–Prince William, started advocating for this in the last legislative session. Now, it’s one step closer to reality. The case mentioned above is not unique. Some local and state governments and state colleges and universities have made residents and news organizations pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in order to access public records. What’s a fair fee? Worst scenario: In 2013, a Chesterfield County resident asked for emails about chickens so she could research government regulations about backyard poultry. She was told the charge for the research would be more than half a million dollars. Agencies do have to spend time doing this research, and there are some who overburden sometimes understaffed agencies with repeated requests. That’s why the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties oppose the bill. The Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government support it.
The Free Lance-Star