Transparency News, 2/18/2022


February 18, 2022

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state & local news stories


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The Frederick County School Board on Tuesday night discussed creating a “code of conduct” detailing how board members should conduct themselves to best represent the school division. Board member Bradley Comstock sent a proposed code to other board members for review during the Feb. 1 board meeting.  “This is simply a gesture meant as a reminder to the standard that we as a board should be holding ourselves,” Comstock said. “We all have different skill sets, we all have different backgrounds. And I value the opinions and thoughts of these other board members. But if we can’t respectfully share and communicate with one another, then how effective can we be as a board?” The proposed code says board members will, among other things, respect the confidentiality of privileged information and make no individual decisions or commitments that might compromise the board or administrationand delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent, and establish a process for accountability of administrators.
The Winchester Star

Char McCargo Bah continued to work as a policy writer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for her full-time job until 2014, but her passion for history, specifically genealogy, came to dominate her life. McCargo Bah now operates her own genealogy business, tracing the histories and lives of the city’s African American residents. According to McCargo Bah, most genealogists enter the field with skills accrued through other professions that help them in their work as a genealogist. In McCargo Bah’s case, her investigative experience from her job as a policy writer for the federal government proved a solid foundation on which to build a decades-spanning career as a genealogist. Her relentless curiosity and deep, engrained knowledge of Alexandria have allowed her to excel. In every case, the process starts the same way: with records.According to McCargo Bah, the availability of records varies from state to state. In Virginia, vital statistics records – death and birth certificates – have been kept since 1853. That’s typically the best place to start, but for enslaved people, the process is often different. Free African Americans did not appear on the U.S. Census until 1870. Prior to that, slave owners were required to report the birth of the enslaved people on their property, so identifying the slaveowner in question is a necessary step in the investigative process. But genealogy is about more than archival research, McCargo Bah said. It’s about forming relationships and bonds with the client’s family and collecting stories and oral histories.
Alexandria Times

In 2019, a McLean couple purchased two parcels of forested land totaling one and a half acres on the shoreline of Lake Jackson where they planned to build a new home. It was a quick and easy process, Tom Liljenquist told Prince William Times, and his new home will soon be under construction. But if Liljenquist had requested such an exception 10 years ago, he might not have been so lucky. At that time, instead of receiving approval solely from the county government, such requests would have required an independent review and a vote by the Prince William County Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Review Board – a five-member citizen panel tasked with approving or denying encroachment into the RPA. The panel used to review every application for an exception to RPA building restrictions – from new homes and home additions to plans for new golf courses – and provided oversight for the county’s environmentally protected areas. The board’s members made recommendations on how builders should mitigate their construction impacts and sometimes denied their requests outright. But the board has not met since 2012 and is now “functionally dead,” former board members Jim Klakowicz and Adil Godrej recently told Prince William Times. And since 2019, all five positions on the board have been vacant. 
Prince William Times

A bill filed by Del. Danica Roem to provide more transparency in local land-use decisions was recently killed by a Virginia House of Delegates Committee on a tie vote.  Roem’s bill, House Bill 626, would have forced local elected officials across the state to disclose any donations over $100 from developers working on projects being considered by their localities. It would then require those elected officials to recuse themselves from voting on such projects. The bill would have only applied to campaign donations given to elected officials in the prior 12 months before any land-use vote.  The bill was opposed by the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties.  Michelle Gowdy, executive director of the Virginia Municipal League, said small counties “with few developers” could face situations where some or all local elected officials would be required to recuse themselves from voting on a project. 
Prince William Times

stories of national interest

Baltimore Police and the company involved in a controversial, now-defunct surveillance plane program will expunge all of the records and data collected as part of a lawsuit settlement. The police department and Persistent Surveillance Systems, the company that ran the planes out of Martin State Airport during a six-month testing period, will dispose of all records with the exception of those that are part of ongoing prosecutions, as part of an agreement filed this week in a federal lawsuit brought against the police department in 2020.