Transparency News, 12/5/2022


December 5, 2022

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state & local news stories


VCOG is seeking nominations for its open government awards for citizens, press and government.
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A circuit court judge is upholding the attorney general’s withholding of a document that purportedly claims it’s not the Youngkin administration’s purview to remove Virginia from a multi-state carbon market. During an April 20 meeting of the State Air Pollution Control Board, member Hope Cupit said she “received an opinion from the attorney general’s office back in March saying that [removing Virginia from RGGI] is not the responsibility of the board, that it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly. Environmental group Appalachian Voices then filed an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act request, and later an August lawsuit to obtain the document. On Nov. 30, Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore upheld the withholding of the document.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

After learning that parents had heard gunfire near bus stops in the Calvert Square area, a volunteer group decided to start walking elementary-school kids home after they got off the bus. But first they needed to know where to go. Carl Poole, the Norfolk campaign coordinator for New Virginia Majority, asked the Norfolk Public Schools division for the bus schedule and the location of the bus stops. If Poole did not want physical copies — he could accept the information through email — the estimate would drop to $339 or on a flash drive for roughly $344. These estimates are just the deposits, according to the FOIA office in those emails. It would be possible the actual costs could go up, and those fees would be credited toward the final total. He said he believes the costs are “something of an attempt to discourage” people from making a FOIA request, and since the division has been using this information since the start of the year, it should be readily available and free. Michelle Washington, a school district spokesperson, stated the transportation division is responsible keeping records of the bus stops and schedules. These are contained by a bus routing management system called Versatrans. She explained that to gather the bus schedules with the pick up and drop off locations, whoever is gathering the information must extract the data for “each individual bus route and each individual stop.”
The Virginian-Pilot

Danville School Board members are prohibited from talking to the media about school board matters, according to protocol established and followed by the board. That role is left to the school board chair, who is the official spokesperson for all media questions related to the board, including those on social media, according to the board’s governance norms and protocols. This means officials — elected by the public — do not respond to questions from the media related to school board actions or issues within the school system. That is unlike rules for the Pittsylvania County School Board and Danville City Council which, like the Danville School Board, have publicly elected members that represent citizens. When asked whether the Virginia School Boards Association recommended the board’s procedure on media inquiries, President David Woodard said boards can set the protocol they want or choose not to have one. “It is not a requirement, it is a best practice used by some boards,” Woodard said Friday.
Danville Register & Bee

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration produced draft history standards for Virginia’s K-12 schools with comments and suggestions from nine entities, according to the Department of Education, most of which are conservative-leaning organizations. At the request of a member of the state Board of Education, state Superintendent Jillian Balow on Friday sent a list of all external people and organizations who have participated in the review and revisionof the 2015 standards.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The City of Portsmouth is investigating after $80,000 worth of gift cards were unaccounted for. The gift cards were purchased using American Rescue Plan Funding and were given out in May to senior citizens, qualifying working poor families and students who got the COVID vaccine. During the city's recent Public Work Session, council members found accountability for those gift cards is in question.  “There appears to be approximately $80,000 worth of unaccounted cards, so that matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities, and we are continuing to investigate on our end," said Portsmouth City Manager Tonya Chapman. Former Deputy City Manager Mimi Terry says she was home listening to the work session when she decided she need to make an appearance at the council meeting to defend herself.

stories of national interest

Billionaire Michigan State University booster Mat Ishbia recently revealed he gave the university $14 million to help sign football coach Mel Tucker to a $95 million contract last year. Details of Ishbia's contribution are the subject of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against MSU by the Detroit Free Press. The newspaper wants to know whether Ishbia, president and chief executive of Pontiac-based United Wholesale Mortgage, derived any influence as a result of his gifts. The lawsuit was filed after MSU denied a Free Press public records request for documents tied to Tucker's contract. State Judge Brock Swartzle is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether documents about the boosters' gifts will be released.
Axios Detroit

editorials & columns

Even as casinos have gone mainstream, they retain a reputation unsavory enough for voters to reject one in Richmond. You’d think that Petersburg officials, in pursuit of what Richmond voters narrowly rebuffed, would operate as aboveboard as possible. That city’s residents, at least informally, seem generally supportive of the project. State Sen. Joe Morrissey has prioritized the casino effort. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has taken an interest in uplifting the struggling city. But even by the relatively low standard of development transparency, Petersburg is holding its cards too close to the vest on this casino. In October, the city agreed to pursue a partnership with The Cordish Companies. But neither Petersburg nor the Baltimore-based Cordish has been forthcoming about the project. And the details surrounding Petersburg’s selection of Cordish remain a mystery, despite a request by Times-Dispatch reporter Michael Martz under the Freedom of Information Act. “All these big developments are the same. And they’re all done through these kind of back-channel connections and everyone knows each other. And developers are some of the most powerful people in any location or state, even though these are mostly out-of-state folks,” said Randolph-Macon College political scientist Rich Meagher.
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch