Transparency News 1/23/20



January 23, 2020

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state & local news stories



This week, House and Senate committees advanced bills to extend regular FOIA training for members of local economic and industrial development authorities. The bills were prompted by the corruption scandal that has rocked the Town of Front Royal and Warren County. many stories of which have been highlighted in VCOG's newsletter. The bills are HB 1527 (Webert) and SB701 (Obenshain).

The stripped-down resolution in support of the U.S. Constitution passed by Danville City Council late Tuesday was written on a piece of paper less than two hours before the regular meeting. “[It was] literally done on the fly to get this thing past us and to move forward with something we could all agree on,” City Councilman Adam Tomer, who wrote the resolution, said Wednesday. It was at about 5:30 p.m., while council was getting ready to hold a special work session, when Tomer walked up to each council member in the fourth floor conference room with his handwritten resolution and asked them if they would support it. However, two councilmen — Fred Shanks and Madison Whittle, who wanted a more strongly-worded resolution emphasizing the Second Amendment and declaring Danville a Constitutional city — said they were left out in the cold. Whittle told the Register & Bee that he didn’t find out about the resolution until about 6:45 p.m. — just 15 minutes before city council’s regular meeting.
Register & Bee

The Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting denied the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s request for $36,827 to fund current and former EDA board members’ legal fees for their dismissed misdemeanor nonfeasance and misfeasance charges. The seven current and former board members were charged in September for alleged lacking oversight of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, who has been charged on 32 felony counts related to alleged financial improprieties during her tenure at the authority. The charges, however, were dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Bruce D. Albertson because he said misfeasance and nonfeasance are not actual crimes in Virginia. The decision comes after the supervisors voted to fund four current and former supervisors’ and two county officials’ $49,922 in legal expenses stemming from identical charges, which were also dismissed.
The Northern Virginia Daily

stories of national interest

A federal court ruled in December that ICE violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by denying immigration lawyers access to their clients’ files.  Immigration lawyers are not entitled to their clients’ files, so many rely on FOIA requests. ICE defended the practice because the agency deems the lawyers’ clients that are in their custody as “fugitives.”  But that reasoning was not within the nine stated exemptions in the law, and the ACLU decided to file a lawsuit. FOIA requires federal agencies to provide documents to any person who requests them. 
Colorado Public Radio

editorials & columns


A recently enacted federal law, the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act, offers a unique opportunity for Americans to learn more about their state and local governments as well as many of the nation's largest not-for-profit institutions — if it is faithfully implemented. The GREAT Act builds on legislation enacted in 1984 requiring governments and nonprofits that spend more than $750,000 in federal funds annually to submit audited financial statements — known as "single audits" because they encompass all of the entity's federally funded programs — to the federal government. The audit-filing requirement is regulated by the Office of Management and Budget. For the 2018 fiscal year, almost 36,000 entities filed single audits; these entities spent more than $1.2 trillion in federal grants and Medicaid matching funds. In 2016, the federal government began publishing grantees' audited financial statements at its Federal Audit Clearinghouse. But these audits take the form of voluminous, hard-to-consume PDFs. That's a shame because the audits include detailed information on grantee financial performance that would help federal oversight agencies identify high-risk grantees that may not be able to carry out their grant obligations due to fiscal stress. Audit reports that are searchable and more accessible also would be valuable to journalists, researchers and citizens seeking insight into the operations of organizations receiving taxpayer money.
Marc Joffe, Governing