Transparency News 1/13/20



January 13, 2020

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state & local news stories



Pulaski County doesn’t have to wait until November to participate in a historic election. Voting begins Monday in this year’s Virginia Association of Museums “Top 10 Endangered Artifacts” competition — and the county has an important item on the list. Discovered last year in the attic of the Wilderness Road Regional Museum in Newbern, the 1855-64 “Registry of Free Blacks” was chosen from among 30 items nominated statewide, according to VAM.
The Roanoke Times

A judge put an end to the back and forth between Strasburg Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office over a petition aimed at removing the mayor before his term expires in May. On Monday, Judge Alexander Iden handed down a final order in the case, ordering the town of Strasburg to pay Orndorff’s attorney, Phillip Griffin II, $2,700 for his work on the case. The court determined Griffin’s argument that “reasonable” attorney fees should be covered by someone other than his client but ruled that the amount of time Griffin and his office spent on the case was “not consistent with those generally charged for similar services.” Griffin submitted documents showing Orndorff’s legal fees, including time and expenses, were $17,592.
The Northern Virginia Daily

Kate Karstens knew she’d nailed the story when the Yale-bound son of a school board member confessed to skipping class more than two dozen times — without consequences. It was 2016, near the end of her junior year, and Karstens had spent weeks reporting an article about chronic absenteeism at George Mason High School in Northern Virginia, tracing administrators’ failure to punish offenders. Now, Karstens raced from the interview to tell Peter Laub, faculty adviser for the student newspaper, the Lasso. After a few rounds of editing, they pressed publish. Hours later, an email from the principal hit Laub’s inbox: The story had to come down. It’s a scenario Virginia lawmakers hope to prevent through proposed legislation that would limit administrative censorship of student publications in public middle schools, high schools and collegesacross the state. Last month, Dels. Chris L. Hurst (D-Montgomery) and Danica A. Roem (D-Prince William) — both former journalists — introduced the measure in the House, and Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax) filed a companion bill in the Senate. The legislation affirms the free-speech rights of student journalists at public schools and stipulates that administrators can censor content only if it is libelous or slanderous, violates federal law, or is likely to spur dangerous or unlawful acts of violence.
The Washington Post

stories of national interest

As the 150th Delaware General Assembly prepares to resume action in January, a state representative is looking to bring legislative meetings into the 21st Century. According to a press release, Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek Valley, is introducing legislation that calls for audio and video of all General Assembly proceedings, including House and Senate floor action and committee meetings, to be streamed live online. The proposal also calls for all the content to be archived and accessible via the internet. Currently, only audio of the House and Senate floor deliberations is streamed online, and none of the content is available on the internet.

editorials & columns

"And unless state lawmakers do more to address the transparency status of these foundations, I’m concerned there are few ways to detect the kind of influence allowed at George Mason."

As a journalist-turned-professor who researches the tension between privatization and the public’s right to know, I can tell you the vast majority of public colleges and universities have separate foundations that exist to receive and manage their private donations. And unless state lawmakers do more to address the transparency status of these foundations, I’m concerned there are few ways to detect the kind of influence allowed at George Mason. Following the George Mason court decision, David Bulova, a Democratic Virginia state delegate from Fairfax County, where the university’s main campus is located, introduced two related bills. Both would preserve the private status of foundations that support public universities while also imposing new transparency requirements on them. Efforts to define university foundations as public entities usually go nowhere, but states can require more transparency of private organizations that are so clearly enmeshed with public institutions.
Alexa Capeloto, Virginia Mercury