Transparency News 1/24/20



January 24, 2020

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state & local news stories



As several state legislators bring bills to stop Virginia prisons from strip searching children and banning people from visiting inmates if they refuse the invasive inspection, the state Department of Corrections says it has decided to stop the practice. The policy had been suspended following The Virginian-Pilot’s report on an 8-year-old girl who was strip searched at the Buckingham Correctional Center last fall. At the time, prison officials told her caretaker if she did not submit, she would be banned from seeing her father. Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond and Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas are proposing bills that would limit the use of strip searches by the DOC after reading The Pilot’s story on the 8-year-old girl.
The Virginian-Pilot

Virginia schools can still censor student media. The Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday punted on Senate Bill 80 from Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, which would have added free speech protections to student journalists. The committee chose, in a 13-1 vote, to pass the bill by for the year. Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, was the lone vote in favor of the bill. The bill would have limited when school administrators can censor content to if it was libelous or slanderous, was an “unwarranted” invasion of privacy, violated federal or state law or school board policy, or created clear and present danger. It would have applied only to high school students. A similar bill is in place in about a dozen states, according to the Student Press Law Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that works to protect the freedom of speech for student journalists. Committee members who voted against the bill expressed concern with taking away power from school administrators and school boards.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

In a 15 minute sentencing hearing in General District Court today, a three-year Virginia State Police investigation into alleged procurement improprieties finally came to an end. And former County Administrator John McCarthy learned what he would be doing for the next 36 months. On Jan. 2 McCarthy was charged with three counts of misdemeanor embezzlement stemming from the purchase of books, travel, and other items that he paid for on his county-issued credit card. For each count, Judge J Gregory Ashwell sentenced McCarthy to pay a fine of $400 ($200 suspended), serve 12 months in jail, all suspended, complete 50 hours of community service and be on probation under Adult Court Services for 12 months. He was also ordered to pay $590.09 in restitution to the county.
Rappahannock News

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, InsideNoVa obtained name, title and salary information for Prince William County employees for the 2019 fiscal year. Here are the top 10 salaried positions, based on total pay, as provided by Prince William County.

An item the Warren County Board of Supervisors usually approves with no discussion - its monthly account payables - was questioned by some of the new board members. The 70-plus page packet outlines everything the county owes its vendors. If it is not approved, County Administrator Doug Stanley explained that the county could not cut checks for what is owed. Supervisor Cheryl Cullers said she needed to “be up to steam” on the matter before voting for something she does not understand. Supervisor Tony Carter said he knows the three new supervisors – Cullers, Delores Oates and Walter Mabe – are catching up on procedures but suggested they make inquiries of staff, which could then be answered before or during a meeting. Cullers said she examined every line item the day before the meeting, began highlighting anything that posed questions and then “I figured that it was going to be almost everything, so I quit that.”
The Northern Daily

Weeks after a final order was entered in a case petitioning to remove Strasburg Mayor Richard Orndorff Jr. from office, Orndorff and his attorney, Phil Griffin II, filed an objection and asked the court to reconsider its ruling. On Jan. 3, Judge Alexander Iden wrote an opinion ruling that while Griffin was entitled to reimbursement for legal fees incurred in the case, the time spent and billed was overestimated. Instead of the $15,142.88 Griffin was seeking, Iden ruled that Strasburg would have to pay him $2,700. On Jan. 16, Griffin filed an eight-point motion arguing the court did not address key points of his argument and asked the court to reconsider its ruling.
The Northern Virginia

The Cumberland County Board of Supervisors, consisting of five new members, met on the evening of Jan. 14 for its first board meeting of the new year. At the Tuesday night meeting, a time limit was not imposed upon the public comments, giving residents a chance to address the new board in detail. A comment involving an unpublicized December meeting involving the new board members and representatives from Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility prompted a heated discussion about both the landfill and board transparency. “Just for some clarification. When this new board was elected in November, myself and my staff put together for want of better words, a training program for the new supervisors, because prior to Jan. 1, they can meet informally and it doesn’t have to go to the public, because they were not supervisors yet,” County Administrator Don Unmussig explained. “My question is, was the prior Board of Supervisors invited to that meeting?” asked a district resident, Betty Myers. “No ma’am, they were not,” Unmussig answered. “This was a training meeting for the new supervisors.”
Farmville Herald

stories of national interest

The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding answers from the National Archives in the wake of a scandal over politically motivated edits to a photo of the 2017 Women's March. The rights group filed a Freedom of Information Act request Wednesday demanding all correspondence relating to the decision to censor elements of the photo, as well as any information on other photos at the National Archives that had been similarly altered. The archives quickly apologized over the weekend when The Washington Post revealed that a large photo of the Women's March on display at the National Archives had several protest signs altered to blur out both President Donald Trump's name and references to female body parts.
New York Times