Transparency News, 2/17/2022


February 17, 2022

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter
Contact us at

state & local news stories

VCOG's annual
bill chart


The Virginia Department of Corrections issued an unusual news release Wednesday complaining about a news story published nearly two weeks ago by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The article had described how lawmakers voted down legislation that would have created a layer of independent oversight over the department. Prison officials complained in their release that the article implied the department “is determined to reject all forms of external oversight or authority.” They also took issue with the fact that it included a recounting of some of the numerous lawsuits the department has settled, calling the issues unrelated.
Virginia Mercury

To be more transparent, the Frederick County School Board on Tuesday expressed support for making video recordings of their meetings available to the public. The meetings are livestreamed on YouTube, but they not made available for viewing afterward. Several community members have complained about video recordings of board meetings not being available. Steve Edwards, director of policy and communications for Frederick County Public Schools, said FCPS Superintendent David Sovine requested that Edwards research the matter and present options to the board about making video recordings of meetings available via the FCPS website. Edwards said recordings of the meetings have not been made available because all videos posted by public bodies must include closed captioning to meet mandatory federal web accessibility standards. The School Board previously determined it was cost prohibitive to add closed captioning, resulting in the footage not being posted.
The Winchester Star

A Montgomery County School Board meeting briefly became rowdy Tuesday, prompting the elected body’s chairwoman to leave for the remainder of the night after being directly targeted by a local right wing activist over masking. Board Chairwoman Sue Kass, who just started the third year of her term and was selected to the leadership role last month, left the meeting during the midst of the regular public comments period a short time after a speaker, Alecia Vaught, held up her phone and showed what she said were Facebook photos of Kass without a mask on while in a crowd. The move from Vaught prompted Kass to interject and hit the gavel several times. “That’s it. Excuse me. No … No. I’m sorry Ms. Vaught, you are done,” Kass said. “If you’re going to sit there and disparage a member of our school board, then you can sit down. If you have something effective to say…” Vaught, who held a mask in her hand but was not wearing it while speaking, quickly responded by saying she has “facts and truth” on her side, prompting Kass to call on the county deputy in the room to escort the speaker out. The exchange between Kass and the speaker was among the most heated interactions seen in at least the past several years between a sitting member of the elected body and a local resident during a meeting — and even among board members, which have frequently found themselves at odds since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Roanoke Times

The letter came to the home of Brenda Sheridan, a Loudoun County, Virginia school board member, addressed to one of her adult children. It threatened to kill them both unless she left the board. “It is too bad that your mother is an ugly communist whore,” said the hand-scrawled note, which the family read just after Christmas. “If she doesn’t quit or resign before the end of the year, we will kill her, but first, we will kill you!” School board members across the United States have endured a rash of terroristic threats and hostile messages ignited by roiling controversies over policies on curtailing the coronavirus, bathroom access for transgender students and the teaching of America’s racial history. Reuters documented the intimidation through contacts and interviews with 33 board members across 15 states and a review of threatening and harassing messages obtained from the officials or through public records requests. The news organization found more than 220 such messages in this sampling of districts. School officials or parents in 15 different counties received or witnessed threats they considered serious enough to report to police.

Surveillance video from cameras at William Fox Elementary School in Richmond released Wednesday provides new views of what happened the night of the fire that devastated the 110-year-old building. Richmond Public Schools (RPS) released surveillance video from several of the cameras at Fox. However, the video did not include that from cameras on upper floors. 8News inquired about whether this was because the cameras were destroyed in the fire on the upper levels, or because cameras did not exist there. The team is awaiting a response.

After listening to vitriol about a moot mask mandate issue, the Fluvanna County School Board passed a fiscal year 2023 budget Thursday (Feb.10). At the beginning of the meeting the Board voted to remove the item from the agenda – meaning they would not make any changes to their Feb. 2 vote to lift the mandate and stop contact tracing. However, that didn’t stop the more than 30 assembled from making masks the subject of their public comments. First, several speakers pushed against the public comment rule of giving their address.  Both teacher Darrell Baughan and parent Jennifer Scopelliti said they believed if a person didn’t have children, they shouldn’t be allowed to or are qualified to serve on the School Board
Fluvanna Review

stories of national interest

"Plaintiffs have a clear legal right or interest in the Protected Records as the surviving spouse and children of Mr. Saget."

A member of Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has filed suit against the group for failing to respond to a public records request.  Commissioner Erin Wagner, a Republican, filed the suit in the Court of Claims Wednesday to force the production of the documents requested in a Dec. 23 Freedom of Information Act request.  The commission said it was "saddened" to hear of Wagner's complaint, which was first reported by Gongwer News Service.  Wagner had requested on Dec. 23 about three months of communications not subject to attorney client privilege among members of the commission and commission attorneys. The commission responded Jan. 4 to Wagner, seeking a 10-day extension to its response time, and had not contacted her since.  
The Detroit News

A judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the release of certain records related to Bob Saget's death investigation in Florida, one day after his family filed a lawsuit requesting those documents be kept private. Saget’s wife, Kelly Rizzo, and three daughters, Aubrey, Lara and Jennifer, filed the lawsuit Tuesday against Orange County Sheriff John Mina and the District Nine Medical Examiner’s Office. Circuit Judge Vincent Chiu found that Saget’s family would suffer “irreparable harm” and stated “plaintiffs have a clear legal right or interest in the Protected Records as the surviving spouse and children of Mr. Saget,” according to the motion to grant the injunction. The lawsuit, filed in Orange County, sought to keep some death investigation records — including photographs, video recordings, audio and autopsy information — confidential and exempt from public disclosure due to how they depict Saget.
NBC News

Baltimore City fell victim to a $376,213 phishing scam last year after a hacker posed as a city vendor, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Office of the Inspector General. The payments were being sent from the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success and the report concluded that there were insufficient practices in place to prevent future fraudulent requests “as there was a lack of authentication.” The report said that on Dec. 22, 2020, and Jan. 7, 2021, the city’s Bureau of Accounting and Payroll Services and MOCFS were sent an email from an account associated with an employee from a vendor company asking to change its electronic funds transfer. The inspector general said the email account was “compromised by a malicious actor” and was able to correspond directly with the city without the vendor’s knowledge. New policies have since been put in place, the report said, to make sure finance employees independently verify bank changes with an executive-level employee from the requesting vendor. The finance department has also removed city agencies from the accounting procedures from vendors.
Government Technology

editorials & columns

"It’s a rare day when Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act is expanded and not gouged out."

We’ve just passed the midpoint of the General Assembly session. If this were a football game, we’d take a halftime break and bring out a band.  Who was the first half star?  State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County.  He’s taken at least three bills that were potentially controversial,lined up bipartisan support and shepherded them through a chamber controlled by the other party. .... The second was his bill to make public the votes of the parole board, which came under scrutiny last year following some controversial releases. Democrats might have opposed this for fear of making Democrats on the board look bad (although Youngkin has replaced them all). Republicans might have opposed this on law-and-order grounds. Instead, the bill passed 37-3. It’s a rare day when Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act is expanded and not gouged out.
Cardinal News