Transparency News 1/25/19



January 25, 2019


Follow the bills that VCOG follows on our annual legislative bill chart.


state & local news stories




VCOG testified in favor of the public comment bills referred to in this story when they were heard in Senate subcommittee last week, as well as when a similar bill was heard this week in a House subcommittee.

A Virginia Senate panel backed a batch of bills on Thursday aimed at tackling the rising cost of university tuition. Legislation heading to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration includes a bill that would require the governing board of a public higher education institution to hold a public comment period prior to voting on an increase in tuition or fees. There was some division among the members of the Senate Education and Health Committee about whether to require the full board to attend the public comment meeting. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, has a bill that wouldn’t require the full board to attend, while a similar bill from Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, entails full attendance. The committee voted 11-4 to not require full attendance for the public comment meeting.
The Roanoke Times

The Richmond School Board has started its work on next year’s budget — and part of that debate is happening behind closed doors. The board on Thursday night held its first budget work session after Superintendent Jason Kamras outlined a spending plan earlier this week that calls for $13 million in cuts to the city school system’s central office. After an open session that stretched an hour and 11 minutes, the board spent 56 minutes in closed session discussing personnel cuts in the offices of the superintendent, chief of staff, engagement and talent. The extent of those cuts isn’t known because the district has not yet released a full list. “It would have been impossible to discuss the personnel cuts without it being known who we were talking about,” Karnas said, adding that discussion of larger offices will include public disclosure of aggregate numbers of employees affected by the cuts. “We will do whatever we can to make it as transparent as possible.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Norfolk School Board has a long to-do list. But when the board went into closed session Wednesday night, it was a rogue Twitter account with seven followers that was the topic of discussion for about 20 minutes. It’s the district’s Twitter account, or at least it was at one point. Former staff created @NPSBoardChair in 2015, but nothing was tweeted from the account until this month, when its tweets appeared to poke at tensions between board members that have simmered — and at times boiled over — since the term began last July. The account retweeted The Virginian-Pilot and two Pilot reporters, about a secret discussion to turn an elementary school into a charter and about a reporter being blocked on Twitter by the School Board’s vice chairman, Carlos Clanton.  Wednesday,the board voted to go into closed session to talk with their lawyer about “the unauthorized use of a school board Twitter account.” When the board exceeded the time set aside for the discussion, they put the conversation on pause, held their public meeting as scheduled and voted to extend their meeting to resume the discussion after.
The Virginian-Pilot


stories of national interest

Newly declassified documents from the Pentagon reveal the Department of Defense funded projects that investigated UFOs, wormholes, alternate dimensions and a host of other subjects that are often the topics of conspiracy theorists. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released 38 research titles on Jan. 18, following a Freedom of Information Act request from Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. The research was funded by the Department of Defense under its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP).
Fox News





editorials & columns



"Journalists in Virginia can easily hit a brick wall trying to get information out of a state entity there."

Every state in the nation has a “freedom of information” law, legislation that’s meant to ensure that journalists and average citizens have access to public government records. Some states have better FOIA laws; some have worse. As The College Fix recently learned, Virginia has a particularly unyielding law: That state’s FOIA gives public institutions very broad latitude to suppress and withhold information. As one official from Virginia Commonwealth University told us, the law exempts “mandatory disclosure [of] personnel information of identifiable individuals,” and it also grants near-blanket immunity from the law’s disclosure requirements to numerous high-profile state officials. Journalists in Virginia can easily hit a brick wall trying to get information out of a state entity there.
The College Fix