Transparency News, 2/13/20

February 13, 2020

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state & local news stories



Frustration with the legislative process is a bipartisan issue in the Virginia Senate. It boiled over on Wednesday, about 12 hours after the end of a marathon floor session that ended at 12:48 a.m., technically beyond the deadline for completing work on all Senate legislation at crossover of the 60-day session. “I think we can do extraordinarily better in the process,” Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, admonished the Senate in a midday floor speech Wednesday. Norment urged his 39 colleagues to “exercise some individual discipline” in the number of bills they introduce, improve the way subcommittees and committees decide policy disputes, and arrive promptly in the Senate chamber for the daily floor session instead of 20 minutes late. Concern about the legislative process already had been building among the leaders of the Senate’s new Democratic majority over a glut of bills that had been followed by a flood of thick “amendments in the nature of a substitute” that have clogged subcommittee and committee meetings, only to spill onto the chamber floor. “We must limit the number of bills people put in next year,” Senate Finance and Appropriations Chairwoman Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, fumed in an interview almost two weeks ago. “This is an outrageous number. The committees are swamped.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

An Albemarle County judge will require a media company to answer some discovery requests before ruling on whether to dismiss a $150 million defamation suit from U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from California. Charlottesville-based attorney Steven Biss filed the lawsuit in Albemarle Circuit Court in April on behalf of Nunes, alleging the McClatchy Co. — which owns several newspapers across the country, but none in Virginia — conspired with Virginia-based Republican operative Elizabeth Mair to defame the congressman and interfere with his investigations into Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian election interference. Despite Nunes, The Fresno Bee and McClatchy all being based in California, Biss has argued Virginia is an appropriate venue because the company distributes to Virginia and is an investor/property owner in the Charlottesville-based company Moonlighting. In an opinion letter issued Wednesday, Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins wrote that though McClatchy has submitted sworn statements denying the venue allegations, she would need answers to some of the plaintiff’s discovery requests in order to rule on the motion to dismiss.
The Daily Progress

Prosecutors plan to seek indictments Tuesday against former Dayton town manager and one-time town mayoral candidate John Crim following a Virginia State Police investigation. The Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is seeking indictments in circuit court on two felony counts of computer trespassing against Crim, 73. Each count could lead to up to five years in prison. Prosecutors claim Crim logged into town email accounts in June 2018, years after he left his position as town manager and while he was a candidate for mayor. They say it appears Crim was looking for emails that would reveal that the police department was told to lay off on issuing traffic tickets during tourist season.
Daily News-Record

The Town Council on Tuesday adopted a policy for responding to complaints and requests for assistance from the public. Councilwoman Diane Harrison, who suggested the policy, cited two reasons why she believes it’s needed. One is that “we want to be sure we provide the best service we can to citizens,” Harrison said. However, no one person can know everything about everything. A particular council member may not have as much knowledge of a particular issue or situation pertaining to a resident’s inquiry as another member, she reasoned. “We’ve got to be careful about what we tell people,” said Councilwoman Donna Marie McDonald. For instance, if a council member gives a resident spontaneous advice about how to handle a matter, and then the member or resident finds out that the advice goes against town regulations, the resident likely will be unhappy, she said. Under the policy, when a council member receives a complaint or request, he or she will notify the town manager — or his designee, if he is unavailable — and the town clerk. The manager will acknowledge receiving it, investigate it and take any action deemed appropriate. The resident who made complaint or request, as well as the council, will be informed about the action taken.
The Winchester Star

Winchester City Council has made it clear that it has no intention of investigating City Manager Eden Freeman’s handling of Winchester Fire and Rescue Chief William A. Garrett. “I, and I think I can speak for the entire council, have complete faith in Eden Freeman,” council Vice President Evan Clark said near the end of Tuesday night’s council work session. Clark’s statement, which he said was directed to the media and a group of firefighters in attendance, was made before The Winchester Star’s report, printed in Wednesday’s edition, that quoted multiple sources challenging Freeman’s claim that no disciplinary action had been taken against Garrett. Councilor Les Veach said in November that he supported an investigation, but discussion of the matter had not been included in any of council’s meeting agendas until Tuesday night, when Veach was on vacation and out of town. According to city policies, council’s meeting agendas are prepared by Freeman and Winchester Mayor David Smith, who also serves as council president.
The Winchester Star

After a 20-minute closed session Tuesday night, Leesburg Town Council voted 4-2-1 to approve a separation agreement with Town Attorney Barbara Notar and unanimously voted to replace her with interim attorney Martin Crim. Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez voted against the removal, while Councilman Josh Thiel was absent the meeting. Councilman Neil Steinberg, who three weeks ago wrote a letter to the editor denouncing four members of council for trying to “move for the firing” of Notar, joined council members Ron Campbell, Suzanne Fox and Tom Dunn to vote for her removal. Steinberg said he voted the way he did in order to break a tie that would only allay what he believes was an inevitable outcome. Before going into closed session, Dunn and Campbell decried Steinberg, Burk and Martinez for going public with the letter to the editor, denying any sort of collusion among the other four members of council. “We’re going into more closed sessions within the last year than I think in all my 12 years combined on town council,” Dunn said. “It makes accountability difficult for those things that come up in closed session.”
Loudoun Times-Mirror