Transparency News, 1/21/21


 January 21, 2021 There was no issue of the newsletter yesterday, Jan. 20.

  state & local news stories   Yesterday, the Senate General Laws Committee advanced two bills supported by VCOG. SB 1103 (which has a House counterpart) would make the votes taken by the Parole Board public. The bill garnered 4 no-votes and was sent to the Senate Finance Committee for reviews, though it's unclear what impact on the state's finances the bill would have.
Here's a brief story on it from WDBJ

The same committee unanimously supported a bill (SB 1271) VCOG worked on over the fall that codifies some of the changes the governor's budget amendment added to the existing rules on virtual meetings during an emergency. 

Also, according to the Virginia Mercury, "a Senate committee threw its support Wednesday behind a bill that would exempt proprietary information in carbon sequestration agreements with a public body from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.  Senate Bill 1343, sponsored by Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, aims to incentivize owners of forestland in Virginia to keep those lands forested as a way to both offset carbon emissions linked to climate change and improve water quality. ... Vogel’s bill aims to provide that protection by exempting proprietary information in carbon sequestration agreements involving public bodies from the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Lawmakers on the Senate General Laws Committee voted 14-0 with one abstention to forward it onto the full chamber for consideration. 
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Counsel for the city of Charlottesville argued Wednesday in Charlottesville Circuit Court that Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler does not have standing to bring a lawsuit against the city and several current and former officials. Kessler’s latest lawsuit claims that the city improperly deleted text messages about the rally sent by former City Manager Maurice Jones and former Police Chief Al Thomas. Among other things, the lawsuit requests an order directing the city to attempt to gather date from deleted text messages and bar the city from deleting texts from city officials in the future. [The city's attorney, Elizabeth] Southall also argued that, per the legislation passed by the state General Assembly, PRA enforcement is a power left exclusively up to the Librarian of Virginia and is guided by a “best practices statute” intended to be more guiding than punitive. [Kessler's attorney Andrew] Bodoh argued that, when interpreted together, the FOIA and PRA code sections made it clear that Kessler has a right to action because he was impacted by improper retention of documents.
The Daily Progress

Charlottesville’s City Council was berated by a few residents at its meeting Tuesday for the process of hiring its city manager, while two councilors said the community needs to get past a churn of negativity and attacks. Last week, the council announced it had hired Chip Boyles, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, as city manager.  The announcement came after the council spent roughly 20 hours in closed sessions over the past week to address management disarray, infighting among councilors and suspension of the search for a permanent city manager. In announcing Boyles’ appointment, the council said the closed search was not ideal. The speakers at Tuesday’s meeting, however, didn’t give the council the benefit of the doubt in its decision or its joint statement of accountability for causing instability within the government. Activist Tanesha Hudson, who has frequently been a critic of the council and appeared on two local media shows to say [the previous city manager] should return, berated the council. Hudson has consistently said that documents she has obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act support her claim that a cabal of white city officials conspired to turn public opinion against Richardson and remove him from office.
The Daily Progress

As Joe Biden took center stage Wednesday just before noon, Americans across the country could watch online or on television as the 46th president of the United States was sworn in. But as the historic event unfolded, students in Chesapeake likely were not getting a front row seat. School leaders asked teachers not to show the ceremony live to students, citing the “ever changing political climate,” according to an email obtained by The Virginian-Pilot. In the email, sent Tuesday afternoon, Mickey Irving, the supervisor of K-12 social studies, wrote that resources would be uploaded to the school’s learning management system that teachers could use prior to the event. Following the inauguration, video highlights would also be uploaded to the platform, Irving wrote in the brief note sent to principals.
The Virginian-Pilot

On Friday afternoon, principals in Augusta County’s middle and high schools were asked to inform teachers not to livestream the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday afternoon. The News Leader received a copy of the email from more than one teacher in the school division. UPDATE: Forrest Burgdorf, the director of secondary instruction at Augusta County Public Schools, responded to The News Leader late Wednesday afternoon, calling her email sent Friday a “miscommunication.”
News Leader

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners has ordered a probe into whether agency staff followed procurement rules after the collapse of a $35 million development deal in Jackson Ward. The project would have brought a 115-room hotel, 63 apartments and retail space to a property owned by RRHA. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a spate of leadership changes, RRHA halted negotiations with the developer, The M Companies, last year. The firm has lobbied the board to intervene and re-examine what transpired. “If you look at all the correspondence I sent prior to the termination notice and after, I clearly reached out and tried to negotiate in good faith to meet all the terms and conditions,” developer Mike Hopkins told board members Wednesday. “Throughout this time, there have been mischaracterizations of what our intentions were.” The issue had not been on the scheduled agenda for Wednesday's meeting, but arose from comments Hopkins gave during the board's public information period. Blount tried to table the matter, saying said she didn't want to keep other speakers waiting.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Department of Education has opened an investigation into allegations that Fairfax County Public Schools did not provide a “free appropriate public education” to students with disabilities and special needs during the coronavirus pandemic. The school system was notified last week that the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights initiated a discrimination investigation, according to a copy of the notice obtained by The Washington Times. The letter cited a September report by WUSA9 detailing the frustration felt by families with special need students due to virtual learning at the start of the school year, though the county government supported child care for some general education students inside school buildings.
The Washington Times