Transparency News, 2/15/2022


February 15, 2022

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state & local news stories


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Virginia Beach’s longtime former economic development director got a suspended jail sentence Monday after admitting to embezzling nearly $80,000 during the 11 years he served in the position. Warren Harris walked out of a Virginia Beach courtroom without having to serve a day in jail. The 65-year-old, however, will be required to repay the $79,479 he inappropriately charged taxpayers on a city credit card. Among the expenses he charged was a 2018 trip to Spain for the annual Running of the Bulls festival. As the head of the department, Harris was allowed to approve his own expenses. The city changed that policy after his resignation.
The Virginian-Pilot

Thirteen Democratic state senators joined Republicans on Monday to pass a GOP bill that would strip three citizen environmental boards of their power to issue or deny permits, instead granting that authority to the Department of Environmental Quality. The citizen boards only rarely deviate from the desire of Virginia’s DEQ on which permits to issue. But in December one of the boards turned down a permit connected to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, angering business groups. Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George, the bill’s patron, said the boards would remain focused on policy and regulations and still hold full hearings and hear public comment. But the legislation allows DEQ to decide on key environmental permits, not the citizens any longer.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

As students, parents and staff grapple with the loss of the historic William Fox Elementary in Richmond, 8News has uncovered public records suggesting the school had not received an electrical and fire safety inspection since 2018. The inspection on August 28, 2018 came at the end of a series of five other inspections that month, of which three were marked "partial pass" and two were marked "failed." The reasons given shed little light on the reason the school didn't make the grade. 8News also reached out to the Richmond Fire Department to request copies of the inspection reports, but have not yet received a formal response.


stories of national interest

Former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s text messages from one of the most tumultuous periods in city history vanished because a phone setting likely was manually changed to delete texts automatically, and ex-Police Chief Carmen Best deleted her texts, a long-overdue forensic analysis has found. The analysis, which tried but failed to recover the texts and investigated what happened to the public records — including messages exchanged during Seattle’s racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 — indicated that Durkan’s texts were set in July 2020 to delete after 30 days and that Best’s texts were “periodically deleted.”
The Seattle Times

A judge has ruled that a libel lawsuit former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin filed against the New York Times over a 2017 editorial should be thrown out because her lawyers failed to produce adequate evidence that the newspaper knew what it wrote about her was false or acted recklessly toward indications it was false. The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff Monday came as a Manhattan jury was deliberating on Palin’s suit, which claimed the Times and former editorial page editor James Bennet defamed her by unfairly linking her to a 2011 shooting spree in Arizona that killed six people and gravely wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.). Rakoff said he would continue to allow the jury to deliberate to a verdict, arguing that an appeal in the case seems inevitable and that the jury's verdict could be useful to the appeals court. 


editorials & columns


We may never get to the bottom of whether Donald Trump flushed documents down a White House toilet. “Fake story,” says the former president. “100 percent accurate,” retorts a reporter. But even without having to unclog plumbing in search of missing papers, national archivists have their work cut out trying to plug potential gaps in the historical record of the 45th president. In 1957, the National Historical Publications Commission, a part of the National Archives that works to “preserve, publish, and encourage the use of documentary sources … relating to the history of the United States,” recommended developing a uniform system so all materials from presidencies could be archived. They did this to literally save presidential records from the flames: President Warren G. Harding’s wife claimed to have burned all his records, and Robert Todd Lincoln burned all his father’s war correspondence. Other presidents have had their records intentionally destroyed, such as Chester A. Arthur and Martin Van Buren. So the government collects and retains all presidential communications, including executive orders, announcements, nominations, statements and speeches. This includes any public verbal communications by presidents, which are also placed as public documents in the Compilation of Presidential Documents.
Shannon Bow O'Brien, Virginia Mercury