Transparency News 11/28/18



November 28, 2018


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state & local news stories




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Last week, environmental activists circulated a video of Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell leaving Gov. Ralph Northam’s office. The timing raised eyebrows, coming on the heels of Northam’s much criticized decision to replace two members of the State Air Pollution Control Board, which was due to vote on a key permit for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The terms of Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bleicher, who Northam replaced, expired in June. They also had both voiced concerns about the permit at an earlier air board meeting. Bleicher initially referred a Mercury reporter to the governor’s office, but wasn’t as shy on Facebook a few days later, writing that “all indications are that I was removed because I sounded like I might vote against the Dominion Energy permit.” Asked last week by the Mercury about the meeting, Northam’s spokeswoman, Ofirah Yheskel, said the governor’s calendar falls under the working papers exemption of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and wouldn’t be released. She did not respond to a question seeking details of the meeting. 
Virginia Mercury

The State Air Pollution Control Board is already expected to be down two voting members on Dec. 10 when it takes a controversial vote related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline because two new members appointed by Gov. Ralph Northam won’t be seated in time. Now, make that three voting members. One of them, Roy Hoagland, won’t vote because of a conflict of interest. Hoagland sent a letter on July 25 to Department of Environmental Quality officials saying he was disqualifying himself from the vote. He is the senior program officer at the Virginia Environmental Endowment, a nonprofit foundation that makes grants for environmental protections. Hoagland wrote to DEQ that he consulted with the state attorney general and the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council about whether he had a conflict, because the endowment received $7 million in a mitigation agreement executed by the state and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia Beach city manager has selected an interim director for the economic development department, which lost its leader of 11 years when he abruptly resigned last month in the middle of an audit into his credit card spending. Another former employee was recently indicted on felony embezzlement charges.  The investigation into the credit card spending by the department's former director, Warren Harris, and the rest of his staff has been referred to the Virginia Beach Police after city Auditor Lyndon Remias' office finished reviewing the purchases. The police and the commonwealth's attorney's office will decide if charges are brought forward, but there is no timeline for that decision, he said.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Bedford Town Council on Tuesday continued discussions about the future of the former Bedford Middle School and plans a Petersburg developer has for the 8.37-acre property. During its Tuesday work session, the town council discussed a proposal from Waukeshaw Development Inc. to lease the town-owned site off of North Bridge Street. The Bedford Town Council held a public hearing about the proposed agreement during its Nov. 13 meeting, which drew dozens of residents that voiced support and concerns about development of the former school.
The News & Advance

A federal judge in Virginia has postponed a decision on whether to unseal criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that the government appears to have inadvertently revealed earlier this year. After the error was publicized earlier this month, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press petitioned a federal court in Alexandria, Va., to make any charges against Assange public. The press freedom group argued that there was no valid reason to keep the official charges under seal in light of the government’s disclosure. At a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema issued no immediate ruling on the request, according to court records.


stories of national interest

There are two things that outraged Arizonans can learn from a video that shows the start of the 47,000-acre Sawmill Fire, which caused more than $8 million in damage and took 800 firefighters a week to get under control: 1) Explosives will immediately ignite tall grass and spread flames over a parched Arizona landscape, with devastating effects.  2) Dennis Dickey's baby is a boy. Authorities had already revealed the eye-rolling reason behind the massive 2017 wildfire: a Border Patrol agent's gender reveal party - with a guest appearance by the explosive Tannerite - that went wrong in a flash. But for more than a year, the U.S. Forest Service refused to release the video of the genesis of a fire the size of American Samoa. A witness hoping to capture the gender reveal on camera caught frames of the quickly spreading flames, and the Arizona Star filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the clip.
The Washington Post






editorials & columns



There are a few things we can say with confidence about the statehouse political reporters from a generation ago. One is that many of them valued their relationships with elected officials more than they valued the free flow of sensitive information. Another is that they viewed maintaining discretion as a cardinal rule and disdained colleagues who made a habit of violating it. A third is that most of them were not under any serious competitive pressure. Many were operating in monopoly newspaper markets. I bring up all this ancient history because it is now commonly believed that media coverage of state government and politics has declined over the past few decades. That belief is true in some ways, but it is questionable in others.
Alan Ehrenhalt, Governing