Transparency News, 11/9/20


 November 9, 2020
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state & local news stories
"Kessler’s lawsuit cites portions of the book that he argues provide evidence of communications that are subject to FOIA law."
In a new lawsuit, Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler is alleging that portions of former Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer’s book indicates the city violated Freedom of Information Act law. This latest lawsuit, filed on Oct. 23 in Charlottesville General District Court, alleges that Charlottesville spokesman and FOIA officer Brian Wheeler violated the law by not providing Kessler with text messages he requested from Maurice Jones, the city manager of Charlottesville at the time of the rally. Per the lawsuit, Kessler bases this alleged violation on a transcribed text message exchange between Jones and Signer detailed in Signer’s book. Kessler’s lawsuit cites portions of the book that he argues provide evidence of communications that are subject to FOIA law. The text exchange, as detailed in Cry Havoc, is a timestamped exchange between Signer and Jones as they attempted to coordinate the day of the rally.
The Daily Progress

A circuit court judge has cleared the way for a defamation suit against Prince William Schools Superintendent Steve Walts to go to trial. Prince William County Circuit Court Judge James A. Willet ruled Friday afternoon that the statements made by Walts in a May 7 video were allegations of fact, not simply opinion, and rejected a bid by Walts to have the suit dismissed. Former School Board Chair Ryan Sawyers is suing Walts for defamation, calling the comments in the video “false and defamatory statements” that “damaged Sawyers’ personal and professional reputation by alleging conduct that is reprehensible to him as a former school board chairman, businessperson, coach and father.” In the video, which racked up more than 29,000 views before being taken down, Walts said that Sawyers and others “have chosen to launch a partisan and personal attack on me. As part of their attacks, they have chosen to smear and slander me for purely political purposes. While I am not concerned about these attacks directed at me, I am significantly concerned they have chosen to bully and attack PWCS students online. Their actions reflect their character.” On Friday, Willet did not rule on the defamation case itself. All he said was that Sawyers’ complaint had grounds to move forward to a trial, where Sawyers and his lawyers will have to prove that the statements in the video were, in fact, defamatory. The video itself was posted after complaints were filed with the school system regarding 20,000 private Twitter messages between Walts and students. Walts, in taking down the Twitter account, said other school system employees had access to the account and it wasn’t a personal account. 
Inside NoVa

For the first time since the dawn of the internet, the Town of Leesburg is independent of Loudoun County’s network. County leaders informed the town in 2017 that Leesburg had five years to find a new internet service provider, as Loudoun would discontinue providing that service effective June 2022. Not only had the county been serving as the town’s ISP, but also provided the online security services, town IT Director Kuba Jedrzejczak said. The decision by the county to separate the town from its network may have been driven by the town’s growth, Leesburg Public Information Officer Betsy Arnett said, given that the town government now has 17 different facilities connected in its network. Since the county delivered the news to the town, both town staff and the Technology and Communications Commission, in an advisory role, have been working to make the transition to their own network.

stories from around the country
"The FOIA from Eyewitness News was filed after numerous CAMC employees were expressing concerns about the spread of the disease among workers at CAMC's hospitals in September."

More than 500 employees across Kanawha County's (West Virginia) hospitals have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic through the end of October, according to a Freedom of Information Act response from the county's health department. In September, Eyewitness News requested numbers from the health department to indicate how many hospital employees were positive for coronavirus at Charleston Area Medical Center, Thomas Hospital and St. Francis Hospital. The FOIA from Eyewitness News was filed after numerous CAMC employees were expressing concerns about the spread of the disease among workers at CAMC's hospitals in September. At the time, CEO Dave Ramsey said hospital employees weren't contracting COVID-19 from patients but rather from community spread and bringing it into the four hospitals. Ramsey's comments sparked anger among CAMC employees. He apologized the next day in a recorded statement and said he did not intend to come off as offensive to employees.

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a judge's decision requiring Bentonville District Court Clerk Jennifer Jones to release court records under the state's Freedom of Information law. The court released its opinion Thursday in the lawsuit the National Association of Professional Background Screeners filed in 2018 against Jones. The lawsuit accused Jones of using her official position to thwart the background check process the organization's members rely on each day. Jones requires any person seeking individual court records to pay $5,000, complete a compiled records license agreement and obtain a compiled records license from the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts, according to the complaint. The lawsuit claimed requests for court records by association members are governed by the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza agreed with the association. The state Supreme Court upheld Piazza's ruling.
Arkansas Democrat Gazette


editorials & columns
"Early American elections featured radical transparency: viva voce voting."
Contests and recounts are a well-trod pasture. States routinely engage in post-election litigation. Election administrators know that the key to managing the pressures of post-election processes in this environment will be transparency. The United States has a long history of transparent elections. Early American elections featured radical transparency: viva voce voting. Voters publicly stated their choice out loud. After the adoption of the secret ballot, reformers understood that transparency measures would be key to ensuring public confidence in outcomes. States built robust transparency mechanisms into every stage of the election process. Election administrators understand how important transparency is. Chris Piper, commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Elections, has been a leader on this. Under his direction, the department publishes a post-election report featuring data and details about how the election went. Piper understands that setting election data free reduces fodder for conspiracies. A high degree of transparency reveals that mistakes are human, not nefarious.
Rebecca Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch