Transparency News 2/21/20



February 21, 2020

Register today for VCOG's annual conference
March 20, Harrisonburg
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state & local news stories


The Virginian-Pilot is suing the state Department of Corrections for records explaining what information it keeps on inmates and their visitors. The newspaper made its initial request as part of an investigation into the strip-searching of an 8-year-old girl by DOC officers. It has continued to seek the information while investigating numerous other people who were strip searched by the department, including women on their periods and an 83-year-old man. All were told by prison officials they had to submit to a search immediately or they would be permanently banned from seeing their loved ones in DOC facilities. The DOC responded to The Pilot’s initial request by providing limited information on the number of people strip searched at its facilities. DOC officials did not respond to the portion of the request asking for an explanation of what information it keeps. The Department’s position is that the newspaper abandoned the request. The reporter who filed the request disagreed. But rather than argue over whether the initial request was abandoned, The Pilot sent another request, this time drafted by Schumadine. The second request asked for seven items, each an attempt to get an explanation of what information the department keeps on inmates and visitors. But the DOC again refused to hand over any information, instead citing the portion of state law that states information requests “shall identify the requested record with reasonable specificity.”
The Virginian-Pilot

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker was visibly annoyed and frustrated with attorney David Konick on the first day of the trial of Marian Bragg v the Board of Supervisors of Rappahannock County.   Konick, who represents Bragg, spent most of Thursday morning fussing with his computer to make videos considered central to his case to play on the courthouse monitor and be audible. Bragg charges that the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) during five closed-to-the-public meetings in 2016 while choosing a replacement for retiring Rappahannock County Attorney Peter Luke.  The videos were to back up the Gid Brown Hollow woman’s allegations that the supervisors did not give the public proper notification of the closed sessions. The videos had been recorded by freelancer Kaitlin Struckman and uploaded to her YouTube channel, The Rappahannock Record.
Rappahannock News

It's budget season in Loudoun, with county supervisors currently reviewing the coming year's spending plan and the School Board recently signing off on the school system's nearly $1.4 billion budget. Local towns are also reviewing their finances, with managers and administrators urging caution. Here's a look at the highest-paid workers in county government and Loudoun's two largest towns. 
Loudoun Times-Mirror

The Town of South Hill has been sued under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act by a Richmond-area lawyer who is demanding the disclosure of documents related to “complaints from citizens or third parties” about Town Manager Kim Callis. Midlothian attorney Richard Hawkins filed the lawsuit Thursday after making three attempts to obtain what he contends are public documents of complaints against Callis. Hawkins’ filing seeks communications received by “any member of the Town Council, directly to Mr. Callis, or anyone else in the town government from Sept. 1, 2018 to the present.” Hawkins claims his first request for documents was made Sept. 9, followed by a second request sent Oct. 15, and a third written request that he submitted to the town on Jan. 6. Hawkins said when he first heard back from Town Hall, officials claimed not to have any documents pertaining to Hawkins’ FOIA request. Later, the town asserted that it was “fully compliant” with FOIA requirements, a response that Hawkins claims is deficient. Town officials provided Hawkins with some documents but acknowledged they withheld 27 pages that were properly “exempt from production under FOIA,” Hawkins alleged.
Mecklenburg Sun

T.C. lights. The Hugo Black House. Ask most Alexandrians, and they’ll be able to recite the details of these controversial, high-profile lawsuits against the city by heart. But the city regularly faces lawsuits that don’t attract as much media or public attention. Some cases are dismissed, some go to trial and some are settled with a city payout. Even more cases are resolved in conversations and never see the courtroom. Between 2014 and 2019, 101 lawsuits were filed against the city, and 20 of those cases are still active, according to data the Alexandria Times acquired through the city. Each of these cases tells its own story, with widely ranging claims, alleged damages and effort and cost put in by both parties. This article is a quantitative analysis of qualitative data points, a bird’s eye view of the forest, not the trees. The Times will be delving deeper into individual cases in later entries of this series.
Alexandria Times

When no public hearings are scheduled and the parking lot at the new courthouse in Heathsville is full before meetings of the Board of Supervisors, it’s a safe bet that something has folks stirred up. That was the case Thursday at the Northumberland County board’s monthly meeting.
Northumberland Echo

stories of national interest

An agency under the US Department of Defense was hit by a data breach that affected personal information. Hackers stole Social Security numbers, names and other personal data, a department spokesman said Thursday. The Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA, is responsible for providing IT support to combat missions, in addition to securing White House communications, according to the agency's website. Department of Defense spokesperson Charles Prichard confirmed Thursday the agency had detected a breach of personally identifiable information on a system it hosts, and was in the process of notifying those affected by letter. The breach affected people associated with the Defense Department. They will also receive a follow-up letter with more information about how the agency will help them respond to the incident. That'll include free credit-monitoring services for everyone involved, he said.

editorials & columns


Back in the days when G. Gordon Liddy did a stint as a radio talk-show host, he had a catch-phrase for those who maintained the naive, though somewhat adorably trustful, view that government officials (at any level) really had the best interests of constituents at heart. “Ye suckers,” the G-man would growl. Hopefully those of you who took the time to state your views about the qualities wanted in Arlington’s next superintendent don’t feel too much like suckers, but the fact is that the School Board – which is now taking the selection process into a Star Chamber of secrecy with no more public input allowed – certainly is playing you for such.
Sun Gazette