Transparency News, 2/10/21


 February 10, 2021
follow us on TwitterFacebook & Instagram

state & local news stories
The General Assembly reconvenes today. There's a full slate of meetings. Click here for the schedule, which also includes links for watching the meetings online.
In the course of investigating financial impropriety allegations at government-funded transportation provider, JAUNT, Schilling Show host, Rob Schilling, requested a series of documents under Virginia open records laws (FOIA). JAUNT refused, stating that the organization was not subject to Virginia FOIA. Schilling subsequently engaged attorney Matthew Hardin to bring suit against JAUNT in order to compel them to release the records. On February 9, Albemarle General District Court Judge Matt Quatrara ruled in Schilling’s favor. Following this preliminary ruling, Schilling will continue his legal pursuit of the requested documents.
Schilling Show

A woman sufficiently argued that Frederick County Public Schools’ social media accounts were public forums and school system leadership “engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” by blocking her and deleting her commentscriticizing the system’s Covid-19 protocols and face mask policy, a federal court in Virginia ruled, declining to dismiss some of her claims against the school board. 
Courthouse News Service (with link to ruling)

Imagine calling 911 during an emergency, being transferred, and then put on hold. That is the reality for some living people in the southwestern part of Virginia. Randy Davis, the Director of the Tazewell County 911, said all the other towns in the county upgraded their systems. Davis said the Richlands Police Department is the only one still self dispatching and using decades old equipment. Because of that old equipment, Davis said the process to transfer calls is time consuming. A Richlands native and mother of two, Laura Mollo, researched the systems for over a year. She said there has to be a more efficient and safer way to handle emergency calls.
Fox59 (watch the video for the FOIA reference)

The landfill was a topic of discussion again Tuesday night, which led to an argument between Bristol City Councilman Kevin Mumpower and City Manager Randy Eads after Eads presented options from raising rates on city residents to limiting landfill access, to selling the landfill altogether. Councilmember Kevin Wingard called the landfill issue a cancer on the city. “We don’t need to be talking about it in public every time we meet, but this thing has to be dissected,” Wingard said. “It’s a cancer. It’s killing us.”
stories from around the country

The director of the Michigan State Police has instructed his officers to remove "nonstandard" applications such as the text messaging app Signal from their state phones by Wednesday and to seek authorization before downloading such apps in the future.  The new policy, issued Monday by Col. Joseph Gasper, follows a series of articles in the Free Press about use by senior MSP officials of the free-to-the-user app Signal, which can be used to evade the Michigan Freedom of Information Act and legal discovery. A copy of the memo was released by the department Tuesday. "To ensure the integrity of our record-keeping processes and to avoid the appearance of impropriety, the use of nonstandard communications applications on department-issued mobile devices, including cellular phones and tablets, will now require prior authorization," Gasper said.
Detroit Free Press

editorials & columns
"The public will soon know if delegates who are running for reelection this year support more transparency and accountability."
ONE OF the few criminal justice reform bills before the General Assembly this session that actually focuses on the rights of victims instead of criminals passed the state Senate unanimously and was sent to the House of Delegates last Friday on “crossover day.” The bill (SB 1104), patroned by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, requires the Virginia Parole Board to notify both the commonwealth’s attorney and the victim(s) of a crime at least 21 business days before the offender is released from prison. Another bill (SB 1103) sponsored by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, that would make individual votes of members of the Parole Board subject to the Freedom of Information Act also passed the Senate on a 33-6 vote. Last year, the House Courts of Justice Committee tabled bills that would have required the Parole Board to notify prosecutors and victims of a prisoner’s imminent release and subject the board’s votes to FOIA requests. The public will soon know if delegates who are running for reelection this year support more transparency and accountability, or are content to just let Parole Board members continue to release violent offenders without any public scrutiny. There is simply no excuse for keeping Virginians in the dark on these actions.
The Free Lance-Star