Transparency News, 2/11/21

 February 11, 2021
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state & local news stories
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Before Virginia Beach’s lobbyist retired after 44 years, Bob Matthias made plans to join the lobbying firm he helped hire for the city to handle legislative affairs in Richmond in 2021, a city memo revealed. He did so while overseeing the city’s contract with that company and began identifying himself as a representative for the firm before he left the city job — even to fellow city staffers, according to city records. Matthias’ ties to the company concerned City Manager Patrick Duhaney, according to a memo by the city auditor, because the law requires departing city employees wait one year before working for a company that receives city contracts associated with the employees previous job duties. Matthias oversight of the lobbying contract with the lobbying firm — Principle Advantage Government Relations Group — also might run contrary to state law, which prohibits employees involved in the procurement process from negotiating or securing prospective employment with the contractor.
The Virginian-Pilot

The General Assembly broke from its staid and often secretive approach to making judicial appointments this week when a hearing to interview candidates devolved into a spectacle that prompted one exasperated senator to let loose a string of expletives. The General Assembly was interviewing Katie Uston, the former assistant counsel at the Virginia State Bar, for a circuit court judgeship in Alexandria. The tenor of the hearing visibly disturbed members of the committee, who pleaded with the co-chairman, Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, to rein in the proceedings. “This is the absolute worst, John,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth. “This is awful.” A few minutes later, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, was caught on a hot mic loudly repeating, “This is a f**king s***show.” (The comment was apparently edited out of the Senate’s video archive of the meeting before it was posted Wednesday morning.) Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, said Wednesday he agreed the public comment period went off the rails, but said his questions were entirely appropriate and focused solely on her qualifications. He also questioned whether Uston had sufficiently disclosed her connection to one of the lawmakers supporting her appointment, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, whose law partner is Uston’s husband.
Virginia Mercury
The public doesn’t see where most of the vetting of judicial candidates happens. It’s customary for a local delegation to come to a consensus around a judicial candidate. That candidate is then submitted to the panel of lawmakers to interview. In past years, the interview only lasted a few minutes, and was conducted in person in Richmond, with no live video stream.
The Roanoke Times

Wednesday’s announcement of Valley Guard Supply’s $1 million expansion shares something in common with another major economic development project announced in November: Harrisonburg and company officials were mum on the developments until a formal announcement came down from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office. City spokesman Michael Parks said sharing information with the public about such projects prior is hard for localities to do. The Daily News-Record first filed the FOIA request on Nov. 13 because company and city representatives declined to comment on the project — even though dirt was already movingat the Acorn Drive site. Between that day and the announcement, both local government and company representatives declined to discuss the development until after Northam’s office issued a press release. Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said localities and companies can do more to keep the public in the loop about potential large developments in their area.
Daily News Record

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker admits to dispersing gift cards of up to $25 to community members who have participated in local government solutions and discussions. The gifts, meant to compensate people for their time and resources, have been purchased using city funds — which a recent memo from the acting City Attorney Lisa Robertson has deemed outside of legal bounds. Meanwhile, Walker asserts that she was not made aware her actions were wrong. Typically, when the City Council gives money to nonprofit organizations, it is done through publicly cast votes during meetings
Charlottesville Tomorrow