Transparency News, 2/14/2022


February 14, 2022

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state & local news stories


Randy Anderson drew on his patience when he spent roughly 30 hours stuck on Interstate 95 during an early January snowstorm. "We were fortunate. It was not something I would ever want to repeat," Anderson said. And, he's using it again now as he awaits an explanation from state leaders. "The people of Virginia deserve answers," Anderson said. While a multi-agency investigation is underway, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) requesting all emails to and from their leadership at the time, Curtis Brown, related to the event. VDEM replied with six emails and withheld 71 emails.

Former President Donald Trump's stolen election lie has election officials drowning in paperwork. Fifteen months after President Joe Biden won the White House, state, county and city-level administrators in at least five states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Arizona and Virginia — report being inundated with time-consuming records requests and inquiries, most of them coming from amateur fraud hunters looking for proof of debunked conspiracy theories. The general registrar and director of elections in Fairfax City, Virginia, Brenda Cabrera, said her office was one of many that was hit by a surge of records requests over the last year, which are governed by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. Cabrera is a salaried employee of the city of 24,000 people. “We started to talk about FOIA being weaponized,” she said. “It’s very time-consuming to respond to FOIA, so you could drag a small office to a standstill just by continuing to issue FOIA requests.” The requests all but stopped after the November election, when Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race, Cabrera said.
NBC News

Suffolk Police escorted several people, including Chuckatuck Borough School Board representative Sherri Story, from its meeting Thursday after not complying with a directive from chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck to wear masks. The start of the work session was delayed for 30 minutes as Story argued against a motion to remove her for not wearing a mask, and as several people in the council chamber of City Hall where the meeting took place argued with Brooks-Buck and told her they would not wear a mask. “Our protocol is that we are still under the CDC COVID guidelines that we have been following,” Brooks-Buck said after gaveling in the meeting.
Suffolk News-Herald

A bill that would give the Wise County town of Pound until the middle of next year to fix its longstanding problems or lose its charter is headed to the full House of Delegates. The bill, sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, at the request of Wise County officials, unanimously cleared the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee on Friday, but only after several people spoke out against it, saying that the town of less than 900 residents is already trying to right itself and that the bill doesn’t provide benchmarks for its progress. In an earlier subcommittee meeting, Kilgore called the town’s situation a “comedy of errors.” After years of infighting and the resignations of several town council members, the body does not have a quorum; a petition filed last month asks the judges of the 30th Judicial Circuit to make appointments to the vacant positions.
Cardinal News

A bounty of useful material is available to anybody with a public library card. The card and the information to which it can lead is free. If you’re interested enough, you could immerse yourself in the research aids available to any of us and not be heard from again for quite some time. For the purposes of this dispatch, we’ll use the example of the Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem and Botetourt libraries that are all accessible through a cardholder from any of the other three. Furthermore, there also are links to libraries at state college and universities as well as the Library of Virginia and the Library of Congress and National Archives. The local public libraries have different resources and features among them so the researcher must do some initial footwork to locate what they want. Again, the digital door to one of the libraries opens the doors of all the rest.
The Roanoke Times

The Charlottesville Civilian Review Board, which will review the city police department, discussed this week the lessons learned from a recent mock hearing as they prepare to take on new powers and an expanded role. Much of the board’s work in recent months has revolved around how hearings will operate and whether they will be closed to the public. The board members appear to generally favor the idea of closed hearings, although the idea has received pushback from some city councilors and members of the public. Further complicating the idea of closed hearings is the recent death of a bill from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville that would have made it legal for a public board to hold a closed meeting to “protect the privacy of an individual in administrative or disciplinary hearings related to allegations of wrongdoing by employees of a law-enforcement agency where such individual is a complainant, witness, or the subject of the hearing.” It remains to be seen whether the board will continue to pursue closed hearings, but much of Thursday’s meeting was dedicated to learning about the Freedom of Information Act and open meeting requirements.
The Daily Progress

Newport News is letting community members deliver the invocation before City Council meetings. But it has a key stipulation. Those who lead the prayer must believe in a higher power. Newport News’ practice of only letting believers deliver the invocation came under review after a Humanist was allowed to deliver it before the July 13 meeting. Humanists do not believe in a god; they believe individuals have a responsibility to give meaning to their own lives and aspire to the greater good. Humanist celebrant Matthew DeGrave’s invocation caused a stir among some council members, with Mayor McKinley Price saying he believed that, by definition, an invocation required a belief in a higher power. City Councilman David Jenkins disagreed. Newport News does not have a written invocation policy beyond a city code requirement that calls for one as part of the order of business. But the city expects anyone who delivers the invocation to believe in a god.
Daily Press

stories of national interest

Several Maryland Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill meant to curtail the use by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) of messages that self-destruct in 24 hours, or at least bring them further to light. They say it was sparked by recent revelations about the governor’s use of the app Wickr to communicate about a range of public issues with top aides and other state employees. Transparency advocates say it is important that government communications and other records be accessible through freedom of information laws and handled with care, so that archivists, researchers and historians can document the operation of government for future generations. Most states, including Maryland, have yet to reckon with mobile apps that can destroy government communications before any determination of whether they should be public can be made.
The Washington Post

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalist will not be charged after pointing out a weakness in a state computer database, the prosecuting attorney for Cole County said Friday. Prosecutor Locke Thompson issued a statement to television station KRCG Friday, saying he appreciated Gov. Mike Parson for forwarding his concerns but would not be filing charges. The decision was reached almost seven weeks after Thompson’s office received a report on the incident from the Missouri Highway Patrol, which had been tasked with the probe by the governor last year. Parson, who had suggested prosecution was imminent throughout the probe, issued a statement saying Thompson’s office believed the decision “was properly addressed.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch