Transparency News, 1/19/2022


January 19, 2022

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state & local news stories


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Virginia political operatives can continue to use voters’ personal information to try to shame them into casting a ballot, despite a lawmaker’s effort to ban a practice he described as invasive and inappropriate. The Democratic Party of Virginia angered some of its own voters last year with mailers, styled as “voter report cards,” that included the recipient’s name and compared their voting history with their neighbors, implying people who don’t regularly participate in elections could be publicly outed as civically negligent. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, told the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Tuesday he was “a little bit shocked” to see a mailer comparing his daughter’s voting history to others in his neighborhood. “You cannot take voter file information and put people on blast,” Petersen said. “I think that’s just common sense.” But the committee didn’t see Petersen’s proposal as a common-sense fix, rejecting it in a 7-8 vote. Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said the proposed ban raised free speech issues, suggesting the state can’t put limits on how people choose to use information that, under state law, is public. “How do you then say you can use this for one type of speech and not another type of speech?”McDougle asked.
Virginia Mercury

Former Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe’s mental health has declined rapidly since he was found guilty of multiple public corruption charges last summer, leading his attorney to request a mental competency evaluation before his sentencing. McCabe, 63, was convicted of 11 bribery and public corruption charges at the end of a 3-week trial in August. McCabe testified in his own defense and denied soliciting and taking bribes from two businessmen who had contracts with the city’s jail. U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen immediately revoked McCabe’s bond after the jury announced its verdict and scheduled sentencing for Friday. That date has now been pushed back to May 20. McCabe initially was taken to Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk on Aug. 24 but was transferred the next day to Pamunkey Regional Jail in Hanover. He’s been kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day since then, according to his attorney’s motion. In addition to early-onset Alzheimer’s, he now suffers from dizziness and vertigo, the document said.
The Virginian-Pilot

Albemarle County is one of few places in Virginia that continues to hold almost all public meetings virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020 and several of its elected officials want it to stay that way. State law allows localities that declared a local state of emergency to continue to hold virtual meetings when it’s unsafe to meet in person and when the meeting is needed to keep government working. Without an emergency declaration, all public meetings have to have an in-person quorum, although boards may allow the public to watch or comment electronically. Supervisor Ned Gallaway said virtual meetings allow people to be efficient with their time and open up participation, and that FOIA law is “starting to become antiquated and it has to be updated for what the modern world has to say.” “When I look at the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, it says, ‘The affairs of government are not intended to be conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy, since at all times the public is the beneficiary of any action taken at any level of government,’’’ he said. “Well, how in the hell has virtual somehow made it more secret? It hasn’t, but that’s where the onus lies.”
The Daily Progress

Prince William County officials are moving forward with two in-person listening sessions on data center proposals despite criticism for holding them as coronavirus cases surge in the region. Ten organizations sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors on Thursday urging them to delay the hearings to avoid a super-spreader event. The organizations are the Mid-Atlantic Region National Parks Conservation Association; Prince William Conservation Alliance; Great Falls Group of Sierra Club Virginia; Manassas Battlefield Trust; Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Association; Piedmont Environmental Council; Coalition for Smarter Growth; American Battlefield Trust; Virginia Native Plant; and the Executive Council Coalition to Protect America's National Parks. Interim County Executive Elijah Johnson cautioned the board from delaying only certain meetings because of the virus. He said if such action was approved, it would require changes to other parts of the government’s operations. Lawson said the overlay district meeting is not “time-sensitive with the continuity of government.” She said also offering a remote participation option didn’t allay her concerns. “It’s not the same when you’re behind a computer screen,” she said. “You can’t have a conversation with a planning expert who is trained in planning and have a one-on-one conversation through a laptop.
Inside NoVa

A planned Tuesday Pound Town Council meeting got unplanned as roads were still being cleared in Wise County. Both Mayor Stacey Carson and council Member Leabern Kennedy said they hope town residents will come to the rescheduled Jan. 25, 6 p.m. meeting at Town Hall to voice their concerns over House Bill 904. The legislation, patroned by House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, would dissolve the town of Pound. Earlier this month, Kilgore said he hoped the bill would serve as “a wakeup call” to the town. The council has not had a full business meeting since early December, in part because of the walkouts by former member Danny Stanley before his resignation that month for health reasons and by current member Glenn Cantrell.
Times News

stories of national interest

President Biden spent 28 percent of his first year as commander-in-chief back home in Delaware, worrying transparency advocates who note that he exempted his homes from visitor log disclosure. Biden, who returns to the White House on Monday night from his house in Wilmington, simply likes being home, his press representatives say. But critics are concerned about who may be seeking to influence public policy while paying Biden or his family a visit. The Obama administration in 2009 began releasing some visitor logs as a matter of policy to resolve lawsuits from the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. President Donald Trump in 2017 discontinued the practice, calling it phony transparency due to officials redacting many names. Transparency advocates argue that presidential visitor logs are reviewable under the FOIA and that any national security or privacy concerns could be addressed with specific legally defined redactions.
New York Post

A coalition of media groups says restrictions on access to the federal civil rights trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's death amount to an unconstitutional closing of the courtroom. Citing the risks of the pandemic, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson has restricted the number of people who may be in his courtroom for the proceedings against Tou Thao, J. Kueng and Thomas Lane on charges that they deprived Floyd of his rights while acting under government authority. Jury selection begins Thursday. Magnuson has also restricted how much can be seen on a closed-circuit feed of the proceedings, which will be relayed to overflow rooms where only a limited number of journalists and members of the public can watch. In keeping with longstanding federal court rules, the proceedings will not be livestreamed or broadcast to the public.