Transparency News, 1/15/21


 January 15, 2021
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state & local news stories
The nonprofit Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust released a report grading each university’s board from A to F on transparency, accessibility and receptiveness.  During a span of two weeks last fall, the watchdog group reviewed universities’ meeting records, board bylaws, and notices and communication channels. The organization graded universities in nine categories, including how boards accepted public comments, how easily a member of the public could attend a virtual meeting, and whether board members solicited and engaged with public comment. The Partners also suggested ways for boards to increase their transparency, including board member names and email addresses on school websites, making pre-meeting materials available to the public, and accepting oral and written comment from the public. Megan Rhyne, executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said a lack of transparency among university boards predates the pandemic.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, has been selected as Charlottesville’s city manager — for the time being. Meanwhile, City Attorney John Blair, who has been interim city manager since October, is taking a job in Staunton, marking another high-profile departure. The announcement came after the council spent roughly 20 hours in closed session over the past week to address management disarray, in-fighting among the council and suspension of the search for a permanent city manager. The council said the closed search process was not ideal and said it plans to conduct a public search for a city manager once leadership has stabilized, possibly in 2022. Councilor Sena Magill said Boyles will be welcomed to apply as part of the next search. Mayor Nikuyah Walker said more information on the search process will be provided at Tuesday’s council meeting.
The Daily Progress

For those hoping to see a new spirit of collaboration on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors after a tumultuous and partisan 2020, the board’s first 2021 meeting probably only brought disappointment. Within the opening 10 minutes of the meeting, argument over nothing other than a new seating arrangement broke out, with Republicans seated on the edges of the dais and Democratic Board Chair Ann Wheeler engaged in a familiar back-and-forth with Republican Supervisor Pete Candland of the Gainesville District. The board also tried to address the length of meetings and floated holding more meetings if they continue to run late into the night as they did at times in 2020. Wheeler proposed that once a motion is on the floor, each supervisor be limited to just two turns speaking. Initially, she suggested two three-minute slots, but Vega and Lawson suggested that they make each turn five minutes.

With two lawsuits in play, tensions between Sherri Story and the rest of the Suffolk School Board and Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III continued as the board voted 6-1 authorizing board chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck to arrange training for Story as recommended by an investigative report into the hostile work environment complaint filed by Gordon. The resolution specified that the training Story is to receive concerns “the areas of management or leadership to include training relative to maintenance of confidentiality of certain School Board matters and racial sensitivity training as recommended in the investigative report.” The investigation found Gordon’s allegations credible, though it said there was not enough evidence to support a “legally actionable” case based on race. It did find, though, that because Story disclosed publicly that Gordon was the person who had filed the complaint that it “creates at least some risk of an actionable retaliation claim.”
Suffolk News-Herald

Student failure rates, along with mental health concerns, are growing within Chesterfield County Schools as the nation hits the 10-month mark in the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 6 learned one in six Chesterfield high school students failed two or more classes in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. That number is almost twice as many as last school year.
stories from around the country
The news media are powerful players in the world of government transparency and public accountability. One important tool for ensuring public accountability is through invoking transparency mandates provided by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In 2020, news organizations and individual reporters filed 122 different FOIA suits to compel disclosure of federal government records—more than any year on record according to federal court data back to 2001 analyzed by the FOIA Project.  In fact, the media alone have filed a total of 386 FOIA cases during the four years of the Trump Administration, from 2017 through 2020. This is greater than the total of 311 FOIA media cases filed during the sixteen years of the Bush and Obama Administrations combined. 

Janny Scott was researching the life of Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter who broke the news of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, when she noticed a gaping, unanswered question. How did Mr. Sheehan actually get the documents? In all of the articles, movies and special reports about the story over the years, he never revealed what had really happened. She was writing Mr. Sheehan’s advance obituary, something The Times prepares for prominent historical figures while they are still alive. In 2013, she wrote Mr. Sheehan a letter — the kind with a stamp and a postmark — and waited. Two years later, he agreed to an interview, but only on the condition that it would not be published until after his death.
The New York Times

Federal intelligence on extraterrestrial technology — at your fingertips. By way of the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of the CIA documents on unidentified flying objects — or unidentified aerial phenomena, as the government calls them — are now accessible via download at the Black Vault, a website operated by author and podcaster John Greenwald Jr. The CIA claims they have now provided all the information on UAP they have, though there is no way to know that’s true. "Research by The Black Vault will continue to see if there are additional documents still uncovered within the CIA’s holdings," Greenwald promised in a statement on his website.
Fox News