Transparency News 12/2/19



December 2, 2019


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state & local news stories


"Seemingly in response to persistent criticism of the deal, the council also established a Mayor’s Committee on Gaming."

Petitioners hit the signature mark to force Norfolk’s City Council to hold public hearings and take another vote on the land sale deal for a casino resort that has been at the heart of much public controversy over the past two months. And seemingly in response to persistent criticism of the deal, the council also established a Mayor’s Committee on Gaming on Tuesday night to study potential impacts from gambling and a casino.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Augusta County Board of Supervisors is asking residents to sign up in advance if they wish to speak at Wednesday's special meeting about the possibility of becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary county. Citizens who wish to speak can sign up using an online form. Staff will also help speakers sign up at the high school on Dec. 4. If people are unable to attend the meeting they can use the form to submit comments for the Board to consider. To hear from more citizens, the Board is limiting speaking time to three minutes per person and asks residents to prepare concise comments in advance, according to the release. They also recommend that groups assign one person to speak on a unified message.
News Leader

Shenandoah County residents came out in force Tuesday to push for protection of their right to bear firearms. Dozens of the more than 1,000 people in attendance at the board meeting spoke in favor of the proposed resolution. A handful of other attendees urged the board not to adopt the resolution, warning that doing so could open the county up to legal challenges that could cost taxpayer dollars.
The Northern Virginia Daily

As has happened in several localities over the past two weeks, hundreds of individuals came to Monday night’s Board of Supervisor meeting at the County Administration Building to show their support for making Pulaski County a Second Amendment Sanctuary. The board room was filled to capacity, as was the hallway leading to the board room. Outside several hundred more gathered to show support, even as they knew they would likely never gain entrance to witness the proceedings.
The Southwest Times

Monday’s meeting of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors is being moved to the Mary Bethune Gym, due to the anticipated crowd for the Second Amendment sanctuary issue on the agenda. The gym is part of the Mary Bethune Complex and is the location of the temporary court facilities, therefore no weapons are allowed in the complex, according to county administrator Scott Simpson. Monday’s move came in conjunction with a decision by board chairman Dennis Witt and Halifax County Sheriff Fred Clark, with the move made to better accommodate security measures and provide the public with a comfortable open setting.
The Gazette-Virginian


stories of national interest

The lack of transparency at the Supreme Court begins with the heavy red drapes that frame the courtroom on all sides. The court replaced the drapes this summer, but would not reveal the name of the company that did the work. The Supreme Court’s role in a bitterly divided Washington and nation may be more important than ever, yet basic details about how the court operates remain obscured. The court is not subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act and the justices are not bound by most ethics rules that apply to all other federal judges. Its arguments aren’t televised. The justices decide for themselves how much to tell the public about travel plans, speaking engagements or health issues. They typically don’t disclose their reasoning when they decide to sit out cases that may pose conflicts of interest. And beyond the secrecy surrounding the drapes are other questions about the building, including which groups have been allowed to use the taxpayer-funded structure for after-hours parties.
The New York Times

Leaked documents and interviews with whistle-blowing sources will always be a part of investigative journalism. But thanks to the rise of digital technology, and the easy availability of data that has gone with it, reporters have more ways to get stories than ever before. “You can be on your couch in front of your computer and solve a mystery of a missile system downing a plane,” said Aliaume Leroy, a journalist who is part of the BBC’s Africa Eye team. Internet sleuths who piece together stories from available data, a practice known as open-source journalism, have helped identify the white nationalists who assaulted counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va.; unmask the Russian intelligence officers who the British government said tried to kill a fellow Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England; and show that the suspects in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul included associates of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
The New York Times


quote_2.jpg"Basic details about how the court operates remain obscured. The court is not subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act and the justices are not bound by most ethics rules."


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"The entire idea went from resident’s suggestion to words to vote in less than 3 hours. When was the last time you saw a legislative body act that quickly about anything?"

There are lots of places you can turn for national news. But there are far fewer places to find the news that is closest to you. Criminal justice. Jeff Sturgeon found that 55 closed cases resulting in 74 convictions were brought into question as a result of Vinton police Det. Craig Roger Frye’s failure to disclose to prosecutors certain missteps in his past. Much of the drama over the case unfolded in secret until Sturgeon stood up in federal court and objected. That led to the unsealing of records revealing that Frye, a former member of a federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives task force, clashed with co-workers; “used slang terms that are derogatory and offensive toward African Americans,” according to a former chief; was pulled over by Roanoke police after drinking alcohol and driving; and sparked another memo from a police chief over “sexual, insensitive and inappropriate remarks” to a female supervisor. Because records in Frye’s case were sealed, none of his lapses would have been publicly known absent Sturgeon’s reporting. “Mr. Sturgeon’s actions in standing up in court to request Det. Frye’s records be unsealed speak highly of his journalistic presence,” wrote a contest judge in the inaugural Virginia Coalition for Open Government award for Freedom of Information reporting. Sturgeon won a runner-up award but the real winner for his reporting is anyone who cares about good governance.
The Roanoke Times

If you were out of touch this week because of the holiday – a point to mention further — and missed the news, during their meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, your six [Henry County] supervisors heard a suggestion that the county should join an emerging trend of declaring itself a sanctuary for the Second Amendment. And, after hearing this suggestion, they asked their administrator to take a few minutes to draft an ordinance to be considered at their closed session following that meeting and then perhaps acted upon in their public meeting at 6 p.m. Let’s pause to say this: On face value, to consider such a referendum is not a misfire.  The entire idea went from resident’s suggestion to words to vote in less than 3 hours. When was the last time you saw a legislative body act that quickly about anything? Right. And the supervisors shouldn’t have done so this time, either. Obviously this was a too-familiar orchestrated process that has so many problems that they insult both the public and the principles of good governance. They followed their rules closely. They barely discussed the issue. They did not hold a public hearing. They did not care that there were residents in the room who might have dissented. The motion was called, and all six agreed. They stood up for the Second Amendment but not for the First
Martinsville Bulletin

SLAPP lawsuits are typically filed to silence defendants who have exercised their free-speech rights by criticizing another party. Many states’ anti-SLAPP laws, such as California’s, allow such court actions to be thwarted early in the legal process. Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law does not. Basically, California’s anti-SLAPP law allows defendants to strike down lawsuits before much litigating occurs, when the original complaint stems from defendants exercising their free-speech rights. That can save defendants time and money. In Virginia, “extremely wealthy people like Devin Nunes and others can torture little guys with pleadings” that have to be responded to by lawyers, Sen. Scott Surovell told me. There’s no guarantee defendants who win can recover their costs.
Dan Casey, The Roanoke Times