Transparency News 12/6/17

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

State and Local Stories

It happened in about 20 minutes: With a prompt from 5th District representative Patrick Sapini, a divided Richmond School Board jettisoned plans to solicit citizen input ahead of a vote and instead pushed through a $224.8 million proposal to address the district’s facilities woes Monday. Minutes earlier — as well as days before — the board’s chairwoman, Dawn Page, said a decision on the highly anticipated plan would come a week later, giving the public time to digest details the school system hadn’t yet published. The public should have had the opportunity to comment on the plan, said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. “When you have a decision of that kind of magnitude being made with little public discussion, it certainly gives the impression that this decision was made behind closed doors,” she said. “This is going to affect a whole lot of people, and public input is needed for something like this.” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney took to Twitter, saying: “We need a plan & the public needs to be part of that plan.” His spokesman did not elaborate Tuesday but said the mayor agreed with Rhyne.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

For most of the past eight months, former Norfolk Treasurer Anthony Burfoot has been in a minimum-security federal prison camp in rural Pennsylvania. He did not seek re-election last month and – as a convicted felon – could not have won it if he had tried. But Burfoot is still fighting the court orders that suspended him from office in February and removed him for good in April. He won’t be able to get his job back, but he wants his money. Burfoot’s attorney, Andrew Sacks, appeared before justices of the state’s highest court Tuesday to ask them to take up his client’s appeal. Sacks said Norfolk Circuit Judge Everett Martin, who removed Burfoot, was wrong to even hear the case. Martin should have recused himself, Sacks said, as he did with a citizen recall petition that targeted Burfoot.

Hampton City Schools late Tuesday afternoon announced the decision to remove the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from an alternative learning center. According to the news release, the nature of the facility — home to seven adult and alternative programs — made it possible for the division to change the name without a formal vote by the school board. The release explains: “Because it is not a school, the naming or renaming is not subject to board governance pursuant to School Board Policy. ... Instead, it is an administrative function. To this end, staff was requested to create a process for consideration of potential new names, which reflect either the location or the programs offered.” Jefferson Davis Middle School, which also has been the subject of discussion at the public meetings, still requires the elected school board to implement a name change.
Daily Press

State lawmakers around the country have introduced and supported policies that directly and indirectly help their own businesses, their employers and sometimes their personal finances, according to an analysis of disclosure forms and legislative votes by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press. In Virginia, elected officials are required to file formal statements of their business and investment interests twice a year. The reports require them to name any employers who pay them more than $5,000 a year, and if they or any members of their immediate families are paid officers or paid directors of any businesses. They do not need to report their income from these, but are supposed to disclose gross income, within very broad ranges, of any businesses they or their immediate families own.
Daily Press

Winchester City Manager Eden Freeman has been absolved of allegations that she attempted to interfere in the Nov. 7 election for Winchester’s Commissioner of the Revenue. That announcement came in the form of a brief news release following a closed-door City Council meeting on Tuesday night that lasted nearly two hours.
Winchester Star

National Stories

When the economy first began unraveling during the Great Recession, most governments didn’t feel it right away. Then, as revenues began to tumble, states and localities cut back on services, implemented hiring freezes and left vacancies unfilled. By 2010 and 2011, many state and local governments were shedding staff and making sizable cuts to agency budgets. The economy since then has recovered at a sluggish pace, but governments have recuperated even more slowly. Today, many jurisdictions continue to operate with staffing well below pre-recession levels. Given that this month marks the 10-year anniversary of the official start of the recession, it’s worth considering whether limited staffing and resources can ever rebound fully, or whether they have become a more permanent fixture of the public sector.