Transparency News, 1/16/2023



January 16, 2023

state & local news stories

VCOG's annual legislative chart of FOIA and access-related bills

The number of people who died from homicide in Hampton Roads remained high last year, with the region’s seven largest cities recording more than 200 slayings in 2022. But in a troubling trend experienced by law enforcement agencies across the country, many of those remain unsolved. Out of 220 homicides reported in 2022 by the cities’ seven police departments, 120 have been “cleared” through arrest or other means. That means no one has been arrested or held accountable in 45% of the region’s 2022 killings. The track record of clearing homicides varies widely across police departments within the region, according to data provided by local police departments and tallied by The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press.
The Virginian-Pilot

Purcellville Mayor Stanley J. Milan and Vice Mayor Christopher Bertaut clashed with council member Mary Jane Williams over citizen and business comments about Loudoun County’s Fields Farm sports complex and Rt. 690 interchange projects. Traditionally, when residents email comments to the council, they are read into the minutes during the “Citizen and Business Comments” portion of the agenda by various members of the council. At the council’s Jan. 10 meeting Williams said that she had multiple emailed comments that needed to be read.  She began reading through several comments in support of the county’s planned projects before stopping. “In the interest of time, we can add those to the record,” Milan said. Bertaut said that not a single comment was in against the interchange. “Well, maybe you can find those, and you can read those into the record then,” Williams responded adding, “It’s not a pissing contest.” “Who said it was?” Milan responded back before banging his gavel. “I’m asking a question: are all those comments from citizens that live inside Purcellville?” “Or they have businesses inside Purcellville, yes,” Williams said.

The Halifax County School Board reconvened for a special meeting Thursday to elect Jay Camp as the 2023 board chair and address business items that were originally due to come up at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Monday. There was further debate surrounding how the board structures its meetings, with Trustee Lacey Shotwell expressing concerns about adopting Robert’s Rules for meetings without having read the book thoroughly. Trustees Freddie Edmunds and Kathy Fraley pointed out that Robert’s Rules have been adopted by the board since 2019. The rules were adopted with a 7-1 vote with Shotwell voting no. When discussing the Code of Conduct for School Board members, Trustee Walter Potts explained why he was against it: “Apparently we don’t follow the Code of Conduct because we have too many people doing the opposite of what’s in the Code of Conduct, and all you have to do is pay attention to know what I’m talking about.”
News & Record

At the Jan. 9 Hamilton Town Council meeting, councilmembers voted in a closed session to appoint Heather Beardsley to an open seat on the town council.
Loudoun Times-Mirror
Note: Let's hope that was just a mis-reported item that didn't mention the public vote and that the council didn't just take this vote in closed session.


stories of national interest

The Republican-supermajority West Virginia Senate passed two bills the morning of Jan. 12 that it introduced just moments before without making the text of the bills publicly available until hours after they had passed. The Senate suspended state constitutional rules to ram the bills through with little discussion and no chance for public comment, a day after it opened the 2023 regular legislative session by passing 23 other bills the same way. All the bills passed moments after they were introduced without committee consideration on the Senate floor. Bills don't get put into the Legislature's bills system until after they're introduced on the floor, giving the public only seconds to review a wide range of bills Wednesday before the Senate approved them.

Hundreds of court documents from the 1692 Salem Witch Trials are being transferred from the Salem museum where they have been stored for more than four decades to the newly expanded Judicial Archives facility in Boston, officials said Thursday. The 527 documents — which include transcripts of testimony and examinations, depositions, warrants for apprehension and other legal papers — were moved to the Peabody Essex Museum in 1980 for safekeeping.
The Boston Globe

editorials & columns

It will be up to the two special counsels to investigate and weigh the handling of secret documents by President Biden and former president Donald Trump. But the current questions should not obscure an enormous problem that has been festering for decades and threatens national security, democracy and accountability: the classification system for managing secrets is overwhelmed and desperately needs repair. Too much national security information is classified, and too little declassified. For years, officials have stamped documents “secret” in a lowest-common denominator system that did not penalize over-classification and made declassification difficult and time-consuming. For example, in November, a 2004 interview of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with the 9/11 Commission was released to the public. It should not have taken 18 years.
The Washington Post