Transparency News, 11/6/20


 November 6, 2020
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state & local news stories

"UVA’s public information officer said the information had been redacted based on a confidentiality agreement with other institutions and cited Virginia law’s 'specific provision of law' exemption."
Virginia elections officials say voters shouldn’t be alarmed if the state’s election website doesn’t immediately show their ballot was counted, noting it usually takes several days for that information to appear. The Virginia Department of Elections released the statement in response to viral, false social media theories circulating under the hashtag #WheresMyVote. Many people are spreading claims that because election websites don’t already reflect that they voted this year, their votes aren’t being counted.
Virginia Mercury

As universities across the country opened for the fall semester, University of Virginia administrators took notes. The week before making a final decision on whether to proceed with in-person learning on Sept. 8, administrators appeared full-steam-ahead on the effort to conduct some sort of in-person learning for students during the fall, according to emails produced in a public information request. Charlottesville Tomorrow requested records in September and received them Oct. 22, after paying $370. The dashboard lists a COVID-19 test provider, if known, whether the school is requiring pre-arrival testing, and whether it is specifically testing student athletes. It also appears to list the number of students tested and the number of positive tests reported, but because UVA FOIA officers appear to have copy-pasted spreadsheet cells across several pages, it is hard to tell if that information would have been publicly available or was only shared among administrators. The specific numbers and names of related institutions are redacted. Jennifer Mackrous, UVA’s public information officer, said the information had been redacted based on a confidentiality agreement with other institutions and cited Virginia law’s “specific provision of law” exemption. Mackrous said that the agreement to share COVID-19 information was oral and there is no written contract to provide.
Charlottesville Tomorrow

Albemarle County’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to repeal an ordinance that exempted it from meeting the state’s Freedom of Information Act deadlines. The county did not discuss publicly Attorney General Mark Herring’s rebuke of its attempt to amend the state law. Herring declared Albemarle’s ordinance unlawful in early October. Kamptner made no mention of the attorney general opinion Wednesday while recommending the county remove the waiver. The board’s chair, Ned Gallaway, alluded to the decision briefly, saying: “There were a lot of things that the state gave some flexibility on, and it was just curious to me that this one was — probably for other reasons that practicality — was handed down from the attorney general, but I’ll leave it at that.” At the meeting, Kamptner left open the possibility of enacting a future county ordinance that could adjust FOIA deadlines. “If the pandemic conditions deteriorate, we can respond in a way that would allow a very specifically tailored ordinance to be put in place that would deal with the specific conditions of both the pandemic and the county’s operations,” he said.
Charlottesville Tomorrow

Court documents detailing key provisions in Jerry Falwell Jr.’s employment contract with Liberty University have been unsealed in the defamation suit brought by the disgraced evangelical leader against his former employer. In a lawsuit filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court last week, he accused the school of defamation and breach of contract. The complaint included some redactions related to Falwell’s employment agreement. But in a hearing held remotely Wednesday due to the coronavirus pandemic, Judge James Watson ruled the full documents should be made public. The previously redacted portions of the complaint unsealed by Watson run just a handful of sentences and offer few new details about Falwell’s employment agreement with the university he led for 13 years. But the now-public documents make clear Falwell’s attorneys believe the defamation suit hinges on provisions in the contract, which they’ve claimed bars university officials from making “defamatory or slanderous remarks” about Falwell and publicly discussing the reasons behind his resignation.
The News & Advance

Public support for Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey Curry dominated the public comment period during Monday afternoon’s Board of Supervisors meeting at a packed county courthouse. “Can I just get a show of hands about how many people are here for this particular item on the agenda?” asked Board Chair Christine Smith shortly after the comment period had already begun. Close to half of attendees raised their hands.  Those in attendance were apparently reacting to the news last week that Smith had written an email to Curry requesting that an item regarding “performance, demotion, salaries and disciplining of employees for non-performance … of FOIA duties” be added to Monday’s closed session agenda.  In her email, Smith connected the agenda item to the “botched notice” of the planned joint meeting between the Board and the Planning Commission for which Curry took the blame in late October.
Rappahannock News

David Fauber, Northampton County supervisor and the former Cape Charles director of public works and utilities, sued the Town of Cape Charles in August for $500,000 in damages for violating the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, aka FOIA, and wrongful termination. Judge Revell Lewis III, of the Northampton County Circuit Court, issued an order Oct. 26 regarding the FOIA violations, but the wrongful termination issue remains unresolved. Court documents prepared by Fauber’s attorney, Kevin Martingayle, of the law firm Bischoff Martingayle, in Virginia Beach, state that Fauber was fired by Mayor Smitty Dize in February. He requested documentation of closed sessions in which the Cape Charles town council discussed his employment or the director of public works and utilities position. Fauber suggested that his inquiry should be treated as a FOIA request. Libby Hume, Cape Charles town clerk and FOIA officer, replied Feb. 13 and informed Fauber there were no minutes indicating any closed session from Sept. 1, 2019, to Feb. 11, 2020, in which Fauber or his job was discussed. Martingayle later contended that the Cape Charles town council “never comes out of closed sessions and holds a vote on anything that may have been decided or approved,” in violation of FOIA.
Eastern Shore Post
stories from around the country
"The PPP loan application expressly informed potential borrowers that their names and the amounts of their loans could be released upon a FOIA request."

The Small Business Administration must release detailed information about the businesses that received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, including the names of those recipients and the precise amount of each loan, a federal judge in Washington said Thursday. Prior partial disclosures to national news networks like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Bloomberg LP “contained glaring gaps,” the court said. The SBA cited the Freedom of Information Act’s privacy and confidentiality exemptions to withhold both dollar figures and borrower names for PPP loans, as well as the precise amount of any loan in excess of $150,000, according to the opinion. But the PPP loan application expressly informed potential borrowers that their names and the amounts of their loans could be released upon a FOIA request, the court said.
Bloomberg Law