Transparency News, 1/13/2022


January 13, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG's annual bill chart

A citizen emailed a FOIA request to a state lawmaker and it went into spam. That prompted the lawmaker to file a bill that would require all public records requests in Virginia to be made by certified mail. Open government advocates said the bill by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, would create barriers to citizens who want to make FOIA requests, would hinder government agencies like Fairfax County or Virginia State Police who handle FOIA requests digitally, and would be "horrendous" for reporters. The bill "would be a cost and a hindrance to citizens, many of whom can’t afford FOIA requests because of the high fees already, and also they sometimes are working full time and can’t get to a post office on their time off to go file a FOIA request," VCOG's Megan Rhyne said. "It would be narrowing the options down instead of expanding access."
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Police in Virginia Beach forged forensic science reports used in criminal interrogations at least five times, according to Attorney General Mark Herring, who announced Wednesday that the department had agreed to end the practice following an investigation by his Office of Civil Rights. In a news release, Herring’s office said the forgeries were discovered in April after a local prosecutor attempted to obtain a certified copy of a forged DNA analysis from the state’s Department of Forensic Science. The office said that in at least one instance, a forgery was presented in court as evidence during a bond hearing. Observers said it’s legal and not uncommon for police to lie to suspects during interrogations, but that they’d not heard of cases in which officers forged official documents in an effort to trick a suspect. In a statement, the Virginia Beach Police Department referred to the fake DNA reports as “inauthentic replica documents” and said that the practice “has consistently been found to be constitutional by both the Virginia Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.”
Virginia Mercury

The Spotsylvania School Board has scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday to name an interim superintendent after three members noted that state law requires the county to have one. School Board members Dawn Shelley, Nicole Cole and Lorita Daniels sent emails to newly-elected board Chairman Kirk Twigg on Wednesday morning, saying the board may have violated the law when it failed to identify a temporary replacement for Superintendent Scott Baker, who was fired Monday. The board voted 4–3 Monday—with Shelley, Cole and Daniels opposed—to fire Baker without cause following a closed session that may have been in violation of Virginia’s open meeting requirements.
The Free Lance-Star

As Virginia Beach gears up to launch a marketing campaign about a new district voting system, attorneys are billing hours to taxpayers for an appeal of the lawsuit that forced the change. To date, the work of a private law firm helping city attorneys with the case has cost nearly $1.5 million, and it’s not over yet.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Harrisonburg Planning Commission meeting had about entered its fifth hour when the issues started to arise Wednesday night. The audio for the city's first virtual meeting since fall cut out while Thanh Dang, assistant director for community development, gave a presentation to the commission members about the proposed Simms Pointe apartment complex on Lucy Drive. Later Wednesday night, after the audio of the virtual meeting had been restored, city staff, Planning Commission members and one of the developer's representatives discussed the project, which was originally planned to be 111 units. When it came time for public comment though, gremlins struck again. Around 11 p.m., it was discovered the main phone line meant for residents to call in and give their thoughts on the developers' proposals was not working. Planning Commission members and staff said they felt uneasy proceeding with the meeting if area residents were not able to call in and voice their opinions on the project. Ultimately, the requests from the developer needed for the development were tabled and the public hearing was left open to be continued at the next meeting.
Daily News Record

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to conduct one more round of air monitoring for the Bristol Virginia landfill but won’t disclose times or locations, according to a new report. The agency came to the Twin City twice in 2021 and conducted two periods of air quality sampling on both sides of town last summer and again in October.
Bristol Herald Courier