Transparency News, 1/22/21


 January 22, 2021
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state & local news stories

Virginia’s vaccine data dashboard shows about 42% of its nearly 960,000 doses have been administered. State officials say that number is incomplete and misleading. “There’s a data gap. Either we need to do manual entry in those cases or ensure that the systems that those patients were registered on and that the vaccine was given to has an appropriate link to our state database, which is where we pull out all of the data,” said Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine distribution coordination, in a media briefing Thursday. Some vaccinators in the more rural parts of Virginia don’t have internet connectivity, Avula said, which could result in a troublesome delay at a time when gauging vaccine availability is vital.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Front Royal collects thousands of dollars each year to fulfill requests for mostly public information that can amount to tens of thousands of documents. But town employees can spend hundreds of hours poring through paperwork, emails, reports and other documents to find the information as requested. Town Attorney Douglas Napier spoke this week to the Town Council and provided members a basic overview of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The town received 91 FOIA requests in the first 19 days of the year, Napier said. The attorney estimated that, at that rate, the town could receive 1,700-1,800 requests this calendar year. Napier did not have the number of requests the town received in 2020. A request at the end of last year prompted the attorney to talk to council members about FOIA. The requester asked for documents related to the town’s lawsuit against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority. The request involves almost 80,000 documents. However, Warren County Circuit Court had issued a blanket order keeping those documents under wraps as part of a special grand jury investigation into the misuse or embezzlement of EDA funds, Napier said. The town was threatened with a lawsuit if it did not release the documents but contempt of court if it did, Napier said.
The Northern Virginia Daily

After discussion with The Breeze’s legal counsel in December, JMU legal counsel announced that JMU has chosen to continue to withhold daily COVID-19 case data broken down by dormitory or off-campus designation following several informal and legal requests by The Breeze for the locational data, citing privacy concerns for JMU students. Instead, the university has provided The Breeze with long-term, aggregate data spanning the period of Sept. 17 through Dec. 4, broken down by on-campus residence building. Mary-Hope Vass, JMU spokesperson and director of communications, provided a statement in an email to The Breeze, saying that while JMU values transparency, the university has to consider student privacy in any data releases. The university declined to have its legal counsel comment for The Breeze.
The Breeze

editorials & columns

If there is a silver lining to a clunky yet frenetic mostly-virtual General Assembly session, it is that there are fewer bills to sift through: 1,098 bills and resolutions this year compared with 3,911 last year. Consequently, there are also fewer bills affecting the Freedom of Information Act and access to government information than last year, too: 41 are on my radar, compared with 111 in 2020. The bills this year have also continued a trend that started six or seven years ago: fewer and fewer of the bills related to FOIA and access are outright awful, while more and more bills are pretty darn good.
Megan Rhyne, Virginia Mercury