Transparency News, 1/28/2022


January 28, 2022

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state & local news stories


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A Senate bill that would require the individual votes of the Virginia Parole Board be made public cleared its first hurdle this week, and its Republican sponsor believes it has a good chance to become law this session after he introduced identical legislation in 2020 and 2021. It was killed by the House Courts of Justice Committee, then controlled by Democrats. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, told members of the assembly’s General Laws and Technology Committee on Wednesday that the proposed legislation is neither a “partisan issue” nor a “scandal issue.” “It’s just a basic fact that the parole board is a public body, and like all other public bodies, they should routinely make their vote counts publicly accessible,” she said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Since working out a reversion deal with the county through a Voluntary Settlement Agreement did not work out, Martinsville has taken matters into its own hands. Over the course of two meetings this week, Martinsville City Council passed an ordinance declaring its intention to revert from a city to a town within Henry County. The ordinance passed on first reading at Council’s regular meeting Tuesday night and on second reading at a special called meeting Thursday held specifically for that purpose. Henry County has a different idea on how reversion should proceed, supporting the matter to be decided or denied by Martinsville voters before it can go any further. Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville) and Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) both wrote bills that would put the decision of reversion to Martinsville voters by referendum. The possibility of referendum passed the first hurdle on Thursday when Marshall’s House Bill 173 was passed passed by a subcommittee’s vote (6-3) and will now go before the full committee in the House. Martinsville Council Member Tammy Pearson was the only council member to vote against the ordinance Tuesday night on first reading and again Thursday night on second reading, and she made note of it when she testified before the House subcommittee, meeting in Richmond, virtually Thursday morning. “I was the only dissenting vote,” said Pearson. “I voted ‘no’ primarily due to the City’s process, lack of transparency and failure to ... seek input from a broad base of our citizens.”
Martinsville Bulletin

The Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board was among the key criminal justice reforms put in place following the 2017 Unite the Right rally. More than four years later, the board remains mired in controversy, with conflict between its appointed members and persistent legal questions about its powers hampering the board’s ability to keep law enforcement accountable to the city’s residents. FOIAs and ‘flying monkeys’ At last Thursday’s meeting, Bellamy Brown stepped down from his position as chair, shifting to a position as a regular board member. Brown’s 11-month stint as the CRB’s leader saw the body embroiled in multiple internal disputes. Text messages revealed recently through a Freedom of Information Act request by activist Ang Conn show the extent of the dysfunction within the board. Board member Jeffrey Fracher also criticized the FOIA for compromising members’ privacy. In public comment, Conn later maintained that the FOIAed information was public business, and urged Brown and Fracher to resign.
C-Ville Weekly

An attorney for the man authorities have dubbed the “shopping cart killer” has asked a Virginia judge to issue a gag order preventing police from using the moniker, labeling his client a serial killer, or discussing details of the case without court approval, according to a motion filed in court. Attorney Louis Nagy argues police have done irreparable harm to Anthony Robinson’s ability to get an impartial jury or fair trial by using loaded terms and discussing the case in a prejudicial way that has created an onslaught of media attention. Robinson has been publicly linked by police to four slayings, but charged in only two. Nagy declined to comment on the motion filed in Rockingham County General District Court.
The Washington Post

stories of national interest

Pfizer Inc wants to intervene in a Texas federal lawsuit seeking information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration used in licensing the company's COVID-19 vaccine, a litigation move that plaintiffs who are suing for the data say is premature. Pfizer's lawyers at DLA Piper told U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman on Jan. 21 it wanted a role in the proceedings to help the FDA avoid "inappropriately" disclosing trade secret and confidential commercial information. On Tuesday night, the group of doctors and scientists who sued last year over public access to the FDA's Pfizer licensing records said in a court filing that the company's bid to jump into the lawsuit was untimely because the plaintiffs have not challenged any redactions to requested records.

editorials & columns

On Jan. 19, I started a GoFundMe fundraiser to support the cost for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request The Breeze filed with JMU for data on sexual assault at the university. In less than 48 hours, donations reached over $2,200 — surpassing the full cost of our FOIA and coming in at $500 more than we’d originally hoped to raise. That level of community support is nothing less than amazing.  The story we’re looking to tell — an honest, unflinching account of sexual assault on JMU’s campus — isn’t only compelling but essential. When we filed a FOIA request for a list of data points on that subject, JMU charged us $2,217 for the time the university estimated it would take for them to fulfill the request. To say it directly, The Breeze couldn’t have paid that alone. Our one option to get the data we need to tell a story we believe to be essential was to crowdfund.  The crowd showed up. Over the last week, 60 donors contributed $2,267 to this story. 
The Breeze