Transparency News, 11/30/20


November 30, 2020
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state & local news stories

"Violations of the policy would be enforced by a verbal warning in a closed meeting of the board, a written warning issued in a closed meeting, a public censure during a board meeting, or removal from committees."
A new internal analysis from Fairfax County Schools found an alarming increase in the number of students left behind by the switch to online learning.  The percentage of middle and high school students getting F grades in two or more classes has jumped a stunning 83%, according to the "Study of Teaching and Learning During the COVID 19 Pandemic." The study was released by the school district under a Freedom of Information Act Request by Eileen Chollet, a mom who has been pushing hard to get her daughter back to in-person learning.

Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar hopes the General Assembly learned the value of a "procedural resolution" after failing to adopt one at the beginning of a special session that began in mid-August and extended beyond Election Day. The customary agreement between the House of Delegates and Senate on the operating rules for General Assembly sessions defines the boundaries of legislative action. When the Senate rejected the proposed resolution on Aug. 18, it left the General Assembly operating without clear limits or structure during a session that Gov. Ralph Northam had called to deal with a projected $2.8 billion revenue shortfall, the COVID-19 pandemic and public calls for police reforms. "We were going week to week, not knowing what the schedule would be," Schaar recalled. "I think it proved to members how important that procedural resolution is, so that everybody is on the same page."
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Five retired circuit court judges on Wednesday signed off on a detailed application process for selecting citizen members of Virginia’s new redistricting commission. In a 90-minute virtual meeting, the judges voted to take applications for the eight citizen members of the panel from Monday, Nov. 30 through Monday, Dec. 28.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Eastern Virginia Medical School has appeared to be on board with a study of how it could combine with Old Dominion University and Sentara Healthcare. But in private, top leaders of the medical school have expressed frustration with the closed-door process, fearing Sentara is trying to force the 47-year-old institution into giving up its independent power and merge with the university. Internal emails show EVMS leaders believe the merger would mean massive layoffs, especially if their affiliate EVMS Medical Group were folded into Sentara. And they also expressed concern that if the school were absorbed into Old Dominion, it would give only the illusion of more state funding, as they considered the university to be in poor financial condition. The conversations show the leaders’ discomfort with a third-party consultant, Manatt Health Strategies, and its study process, which they say was underway for many months without their knowledge, The Pilot reported on Nov. 1. EVMS and Northam administration officials have not made the Manatt report public, though it was expected earlier this month.Both have answered Freedom of Information Act requests saying it doesn’t yet exist.
The Virginian-Pilot

Two weeks after issuing a formal, public reprimand of one member, the Loudoun School Board on Tuesday is scheduled to consider a new set of policies designed to govern how members interact with the public, staff and press. The proposal includes prohibitions on actions that could be “reasonably interpreted” as undermining decisions of the full board and requires members not impede day-to-day school operations that fall under the responsibly of the superintendent.The proposal also designates the chairman as the official spokesperson of the board for all School Board policies and School Board actions. School Board members who receive calls from the media regarding school operations—topics that include personnel, student matters, school programs, finance, campus conditions and emergency events—must redirect the calls to the chairman and also notify the superintendent and the division’s legal counsel that he or she had been contacted by a reporter. Under the proposal, individual School Board members would only be authorized to discuss with members of the media their votes on motions, campaign positions and “current events.” Violations of the policy would be enforced by a verbal warning in a closed meeting of the board, a written warning issued in a closed meeting, a public censure during a board meeting, or removal from committees.
stories from around the country
"The state now has a policy that requires all state business to be conducted by state email."
Michigan will pay $10,000 as part of a settlement in a 3-year-old case regarding a public records request that was denied by the former attorney general.  Attorney General Dana Nessel on Wednesday announced her office had reached a settlement with Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group that sued the state after Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette denied a public records request in 2016 seeking the emails of 21 department employees believed to be using a personal email account. The emails, Nessel said Wednesday, are missing from the department's records and officials are unable to determine whether they were kept according to retention and disposal windows.  "Prior to the lawsuit the State of Michigan did not have a policy prohibiting the use of private emails for official business," a statement from Nessel's office said. "The state now has a policy that requires all state business to be conducted by state email."
The Detroit News



editorials & columns
"Whether these information games are intentional or just the default mode of a department’s culture, they ultimately hurt law enforcement officers who go to work every day and try to do right by the community."
The Virginia Office of the State Inspector General is charged with the critical responsibility of serving as a watchdog over other agencies. But all too often, government simply serves itself — even when a watchdog agency such as the OSIG tries to do its job. That’s the picture painted by a review of the agency’s investigation into allegations against the Virginia Parole Board. Now the controversy has shifted to just why the report had been so heavily redacted — as have been others that followed it. A recent story from the Virginia Mercury chronicles the involvement of the Northam administration — although, as the story points out, the fact that the reports are redacted, as are the emails concerning them, makes it difficult to find out whether anyone was meddling and, if so, how significantly.
The Daily Progress

Join us today as we dive down the rabbit hole of the past, present and future. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote. That led us to look back on the long gap between when women started voting in 1920 and when they started running, in significant numbers, for public office. (Some might say we’re still not there yet.) In the course of that, we stumbled upon a trivia question that would stump many a Virginia history buff. What woman was on a statewide ballot in Virginia more than any other? The answer: Alice Burke. She ran four times — for the U.S. Senate in 1940, for governor in 1941, for Senate again in 1942 and 1946. Now get this: She was the nominee of the Communist Party. She didn’t win, obviously, but she did better than you might expect. That led us to wonder: Who were the Virginians who voted for communists in the 1940s? We don’t know that but, thanks to the archives of the state Board of Elections, we can tell you where they were — and that’s where things really get interesting.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Local police reporters are among the hardest-working people I know. They spend long, irregular hours gathering and compiling time-sensitive information, and go from one painful story to another. They knock on doors already knowing why someone is wailing on the other side. That work is only made more difficult when police departments aren’t transparent. Sometimes this comes in the form of omitting details, or releasing cryptic ones. Other times, it comes in delaying information from coming out. This holds true even when the subject is not about police misconduct. Whether these information games are intentional or just the default mode of a department’s culture, they ultimately hurt law enforcement officers who go to work every day and try to do right by the community (and there are plenty of those). On Tuesday, it was announced that D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham will be leaving the city’s force to serve as the police chief in Prince William County. The city does deserve a chief who understands the hurt and outrage and fear behind each of those names. It also deserves a chief who will embrace transparency to foster more trust between the public and the police, in the interests of both. Hopefully, Newsham will be that chief for Prince William County. Because the people there deserve that, too.
Theresa Vargas, The Washington Post