Transparency News, 12/1/2022



December 1, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG is seeking nominations for its open government awards for citizens, press and government.
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Court clerks don’t generally make the news. Kennedy has spent 28 years or more making news – first for the technological changes he’s introduced to the office, then for using his position as an elected official to advocate more broadly for the growth of a technology sector in Southwest Virginia. That’s what makes Kennedy’s impending departure, both from the office and from the state, so noteworthy. At a time when most people didn’t even know what the internet was, Kennedy set about trying to put court records online. “I became fascinated with knowing that technology could be taken one step further,” he told the Associated Press in 1996. “I kept thinking, why are we waiting? The technology is here now.” He quickly ran into obstacles: Attorney General Jim Gilmore ruled that he didn’t have the authority. In time, those antiquated state laws fell by the wayside. In 2000, the Wise County clerk’s office became the first in the nation to record the electronic filing of a deed. Over the years since, his office became the first to put criminal records online and to make it possible to apply for or renew concealed weapons permits online. His office is now involved in a first-in-the-nation effort to use blockchain technology to create searchable land transfer records.
Cardinal News
(Note: Kennedy is a past member of VCOG's board of directors)

The Warrenton Planning Commission acted outside its authority last week when it indefinitely postponed a vote on Amazon’s application for a data center on Blackwell Road, Warrenton’s interim town manager said in a news release Monday. In voting to put off the vote indefinitely, the planning commission ignored guidance from the town attorney, Town Manager Christopher Martino said in the release.  Martino explained in the release that Town Attorney Martin Crim told planning commissioners in advance of last week's meeting that they would violate Virginia Code by delaying consideration of the application instead of voting to recommend approval or denial of the application. Virginia Code stipulates that the commission must vote a zoning application up or down within 100 days of its first meeting on the application. Crim said that while the state code does not specifically mention special-use permits — the type of application filed by Amazon — Warrenton's code stipulates that SUPs shall "be processed in the same manner as for zoning amendments." 
Fauquier Times

The governor’s decision to forgo trade and marketing missions has been a surprise to Virginia business leaders given his international business background and emphasis on economic development during last year’s campaign. It has also been a concern for some business leaders, particularly those in the aerospace and defense industries, who noted his absence from the Farnborough International Airshow in July, according to emails The Washington Post obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Washington Post

stories of national interest

In September, attorney Elad Gross sued the city of St. Louis, alleging wide-ranging violations of the state’s Sunshine law. Last week, the city slapped back at Gross — filing a counterclaim that seeks $25,000 in damages. Gross calls the counterclaim "pretty unnerving." Gross' initial lawsuit stemmed from what he said was a year-long delay in accessing records relevant to a potential lawsuit he was researching on behalf of a man injured while in the City Justice Center. A St. Louis-based lawyer focused on government transparency, Gross ran for state attorney general in 2020’s Democratic primary. Prior to suing the city, Gross was involved in numerous transparency lawsuits against state officials. In their filing, lawyers with the City Counselor's office called Gross' suit a “transparent publicity stunt — an opportunity for self promotion in service of Gross’ political ambitions." They accuse him of weaponizing the Sunshine Law and abusing the court system. The very end of the city's counterclaim states they are seeking "compensatory and punitive damages" from Gross of $25,000.
Riverfront Times

editorials & columns

The problem for the Virginia Attorney General’s Election Integrity Unit is that it was born from a lie. An ambitious young politician –Jason Miyares – climbed briefly into bed with election deniers who spewed false claims that fraud cost Donald Trump the 2020 presidential election. Miyares knew those claims were not true. But he needed the votes of the conspiracy theorists to win election as a Republican in 2021. That message comes through in the nearly 800 pages of data, documents and emails released Tuesday under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Virginia NAACP. The information cost the civil right group $9,500, which Miyares’ office said was the cost of gathering the material.   
The Daily Progress