Transparency News, 2/16/21


 February 16, 2021


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state & local news stories
Most of the public had logged off for the evening or filtered out of the chambers to make the snowy drive home when the council made one final vote at the end of the long night. They decided that the city will use general funds to pay for judgment and attorney’s fees related to FOIA litigation in the Mead vs. Oakes case of December 2020. The case, which was filed by Councilwoman Brenda Mead against Mayor Andrea Oakes, began with a document that Mead had requested from Oakes after she witnessed Vice Mayor Robertson handing it to her during a city council meeting last year. Councilman Terry Holmes and Councilwoman Carolyn Dull voted no and Mead said that considering her involvement in the case, she would abstain from voting. Oakes did not abstain from voting.  
News Leader


stories from around the country

The city of Rochester launched its public database of online police disciplinary files Thursday after reaching an agreement to settle a pending lawsuit with the Rochester Police Locust Club union. The database publishes the disciplinary records of all current RPD officers who have such a record on file, according to a statement released by the city.
Democrat & Chronicle

editorials & columns
The rush of opening day for Virginia’s most powerful lawmaking body was replaced this year with life in the age of the coronavirus — empty rooms, video meetings and shaky technology. For this marooned General Assembly newcomer (I started covering state government for The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press in December), the pandemic’s isolation has pushed an already daunting process even further out of reach. This is a legislative session unlike any in modern history, with House members meeting remotely and senators wearing masks in a sparsely filled conference room at Richmond’s Science Museum of Virginia. It’s a stark contrast from the typical frenzy of Virginia’s State Capitol and its adjacent Pocahontas Building, a crammed maze that houses lawmakers’ offices while crews make a new General Assembly building. More broadly, though, this new virtual process — fashioned to suit the needs of a 400-year-old institution and its players — doesn’t accommodate people who don’t know how the games are played in Richmond. And so we’re left behind.
Ana Ley, Daily Press

Having already faced one controversy over city councilors’ use of credit cards, Charlottesville is now embroiled in another.  Council has got to solve its credit card problems. The latest controversy is Mayor Nikuyah Walker’s use of her city account to compensate people who speak at City Council meetings. On Facebook, Walker said she’s been purchasing gift cards for community members since 2018. She said the city frequently compensates speakers. She also said staff knew about the purchases, and that no one had ever told her such compensation was wrong. If the payments were no secret, Walker has a point: She may justifiably feel blindsided by the current scrutiny. But this is exactly why Charlottesville needs a better credit card policy. Questions about clarity and transparency came up a year and a half ago, and council never dealt with them.
The Daily Progress

We support Virginia legislators’ desire to protect their constituents’ privacy. Unfortunately, the Consumer Data Protection Act falls short in many ways. Not coincidentally, this bill is nearly identical to one in the state of Washington that is supported by major tech companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google.  It is based on the outdated “notice and opt out” framework which underpins the current system of commercial surveillance and fails to provide consumers with meaningful control over their personal information.
Irene Leech and Susan Grant