Transparency News, 12/3/21


December 3, 2021
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state & local news stories

Since the Supreme Court of Virginia took over the redistricting process, all public comments been compiled on a single document more than 400 pages long that’s tough to navigate and infrequently updated, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government says. Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the nonprofit group that promotes expanded access to public information, urged the court in a Nov. 24 email to change its document management system for cataloguing public comments about the redistricting process.  “The redistricting process has a finite window in which to operate. There is no time to waste. It is imperative that the public and the press has up-to-date and easily parsed information about who has submitted comments and when,” she wrote. She cited the lack of an easy-to-follow timeline and lack of automatic updates as the two biggest problems with the current document.
Virginia Mercury

A proposed tuition hike of up to 4.9% met with resounding silence Thursday as no one showed up at a meeting set up by University of Virginia officials to get public input on the proposal. The UVa Board of Visitors scheduled and publicized the hearing early last month, and finance officials took the proposal to various groups on campus in the past 30 days. When the meeting opened for commentary, no one had signed up to address the tuition proposal, either in person or online. Neither did anyone speak to the tuition proposal for UVa Wise, which joined in the public forum. UVa Rector Whittington W. Clement said he hoped anyone who had watched the presentation online would email the Board of Visitors or finance officials with any questions or comments they may have.
The Daily Progress

The Warren County School Board adopted new rules on Wednesday for public participation at meetings. The new policy no longer requires speakers to provide their home address to address the board during the comment period. But non-county residents now must notify the division in advance if they want to speak to the board. Board member Melanie C. Salins has said some residents expressed fear over disclosing their addresses in public and, thus, might not speak at meetings. At the same time, Salins expressed concern that some speakers at a recent meeting made comments relative to the school division yet did not live in the county. A speaker must now state for the record if he or she lives in the county, is a parent of a student in the school division or is a division employee.
The Northern Virginia Daily

The Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office and fire department will maintain a presence at the next School Board meeting as a response to a book burning event scheduled by a local Facebook group, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Troy Skebo said Wednesday. The anonymously run page Spotsy 411 posted the event Nov. 22, urging Spotsylvania parents to have their children check out books from the school library that they want to see removed, and bring them to the Dec. 13 School Board meeting, where “we will burn every last one of them.” The event disappeared from the page Nov. 25 and the page was no longer published on Facebook as of Nov. 28. Spotsy 411 also posted the names and workplaces of all school division employees who spoke at the Nov. 15 School Board meeting in opposition to the board’s decision to remove “sexually explicit” books from library shelves without following established policy for challenging library materials.
The Free Lance-Star
stories from around the country
The so-called "Alternative Mueller Report” mentioned in a book by Andrew Weissmann, a top prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation, has been found, according to the Department of Justice. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York said in a Thursday evening filing in federal court that the Justice Department “has located and begun processing this record and intends to release all non-exempt portions … once processing is complete.” The Justice Department was responding to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The New York Times in July seeking access to a report allegedly compiled by Weissmann, who publicly battled with Mueller after the special counsel's report “did not establish” any conspiracy or coordination between members of former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and the Kremlin.
Washington Examiner

Over the past 14 years, the Central Intelligence Agency has secretly amassed credible evidence that at least 10 of its employees and contractors committed sexual crimes involving children. Though most of these cases were referred to US attorneys for prosecution, only one of the individuals was ever charged with a crime. Prosecutors sent the rest of the cases back to the CIA to handle internally, meaning few faced any consequences beyond the possible loss of their jobs and security clearances. That marks a striking deviation from how sex crimes involving children have been handled at other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration. CIA insiders say the agency resists prosecution of its staff for fear the cases will reveal state secrets. The revelations are contained in hundreds of internal agency reports obtained by BuzzFeed News through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.
BuzzFeed News

editorials & opinion
"It’s hard to take seriously people who just want to show up and complain and not take the time to sit through the whole process of what they’re complaining about."
OK, let’s set aside their anti-vax, anti-gay, anti-transgender, anti-whatever agenda. The point is, these speakers were concerned about local schools. That’s a good thing, whether you agree with their viewpoint or not. Let’s even set aside their rude behavior – some started speaking out of turn and shouting at school board members. But here’s the thing that should really infuriate people. After all the commotion and all these outbursts, once the school board started getting into the actual work of the evening, the protesters left! “It’s really sad to see all of you that came all the way out to James River just disappear now,” board chair Anna Weddle said as they started to head for the exits. But disappear they did. The newspaper reported: “By the time the board opened the floor for public comment less than an hour later, nobody remaining in the audience spoke up to provide input on the schools’ continued reopening plans.” Folks, having an opinion is easy. All you have to do is sit at home and get your talking points from Fox or MSN, depending on your political leanings. But it’s also hard to take seriously people who just want to show up and complain and not take the time to sit through the whole process of what they’re complaining about.
Dwayne Yancey, Cardinal News

It is a credit to the grand jury, Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle and police officials that this report was made public and the reasoning was spelled out on Tuesday. Timely communication should be the rule, not an exception. What happened on March 26 was a terrible tragedy — for the families of those killed, for those injured and for the whole community. This grand jury report will not ease the pain that lingers as a result and the Lynch family is well within its right to seek a federal investigation, as they called for on Wednesday. But this outcome speaks to the need for communities to embrace law enforcement reforms — to adopt robust citizen review boards with investigative authority and provide transparent, independent oversight that can help protect police and citizens alike. That will inspire confidence that difficult, emotional cases such as this will be handled in a way that the public can trust.
The Virginian-Pilot