Transparency News, 1/23/2023


January 23, 2023

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state & local news stories

VCOG's annual legislative chart of FOIA and access-related bills

Two Hampton legislators who sit on the Fort Monroe Authority’s board of trustees are pushing for a bill that would exempt the entity from complying with certain provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. “It’s just a way to help Fort Monroe work in the private development world with private developers and their financing,” said Glenn Oder, the authority’s executive director. The authority is a political subdivision that oversees development on the state’s property at the fort, which ceased to operate as an Army base in 2011. The bill would allow it to withhold “trade secrets, proprietary information or financial information” received from a private individual or entity for the purposes of complying with a lease, license, permit, or other agreements of a commercial or residential nature. “Proprietary information specifically has been given a really broad construction by the courts,” said Lin Weeks, staff attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think the idea that proprietary information held by the Fort Monroe Authority (could potentially) be kept from the public is troubling from a transparency standpoint.”
Daily Press

Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In this occasional series, the Mercury takes a look at a few of the proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session. House Bill 2061: Tax credits for local journalism. This legislation, from Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, creates a nonrefundable income tax credit for eligible local newspaper publishers for compensation paid to local news journalists.  The bill comes at a time when local newspapers in Virginia are facing large staffing cuts and closures due to buyouts from hedge and private equity funds, technology and population shifts and lack of funding. Reports also show an average of more than two a week are shutting down nationwide.
Virginia Mercury

At the Capitol, lobbyists say it’s not just a game of compromise, but one of mistrust. Politicians nationwide have grown less inclined to sign checks for higher ed and more curious about how schools use taxpayer dollars. This month, state Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, introduced two bills that would require universities to detail their tuition spending and require approval from SCHEV for starting new programs. In the House, Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, introduced a bill asking the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to perform a rigorous cost-efficiency study of universities. Stacie Gordon, executive director of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, says Virginia legislators want more accountability.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Former Superintendent Mark Miear is required to repay $55,137 to the Montgomery County School Board by Jan. 31, according to an agreement between it and its former employee. The agreement, obtained through a public records request, was unanimously approved by the school board last month following a specially-called closed session. The agreement replaced a previous one from March of last year, when Miear was unanimously dismissed by the board. Miear’s firing prompted speculation across the community and led to questions, including from the county’s Board of Supervisors, about whether he would receive severance. Supervisors argued severance was an issue of financial concern for them as each year they must approve funding for the county schools. The county school system eventually provided records showing Miear had received check payments from March to June totaling $42,674. Additional records obtained this week show that approximately $21,448 in check payments were made to the former district chief in July and August.
The Roanoke Times

A new supermajority of the Portsmouth City Council has rescinded a previous decision and will no longer pursue changes in how elected officials are recalled from office. In December, the previous council voted 5-2 to request a bill in the General Assembly that would amend the city charter to tighten the eligible reasons for recalling elected officials and to allow voters to begin that process as soon as they take office, rather than a year after beginning their terms. Additionally, Circuit Court judges would have been allowed to hold a hearing and determine the legitimacy of recall petitions. With the change, recalls could only be launched against elected officials for neglect of duty, misuse of office, incompetence, or a misdemeanor conviction that would have a negative effect on their ability to perform in their elected positions.
The Virginian-Pilot

RaShall Brackney, Charlottesville’s first Black woman police chief and the person hired to head the department after the deadly Unite the Right rally, saw her $10 million wrongful termination lawsuit dismissed Friday by a federal judge. Using her full name of Rashall M. Brackney-Wheelock, the former chief filed a 73-page federal complaint June 15, 2022, accusing 10 government and police leaders of plotting to oust her and then harming her reputation with their public comments. All she was doing, she asserted, was trying to bring order to the force.
The Daily Progress

stories of national interest

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have released nearly 3,000 immigrants whose personal information, including birth dates and detention locations, was inadvertently posted on the internet by the U.S. government, according to government officials. Officials accidentally posted the names, birth dates, nationalities and detention locations of more than 6,000 immigrants who claimed to be fleeing torture and persecution to the agency's website in late November. Immigrant advocates criticized the disclosure, saying it could put people at risk. The agency mistakenly published the data during a routine update of its website Nov. 28. Human Rights First notified ICE officials about the mistake, and the agency quickly deleted the data from its website. The file was posted to a page where ICE regularly publishes detention statistics. The information was up for about five hours.