Transparency News, 2/2/2022


February 2, 2022

There was no newsletter yesterday, Feb. 1, 2022.

state & local news stories


VCOG's annual
bill chart


Yesterday, a House subcommittee advanced a substitute bill to revamp the Virginia Employment Comission. The new version addresses multiple transparency concerns VCOG raised with the original version. A similar substitute will be offered in the Senate.

In another House subcommittee, a bill on the Greenway Toll Road in Loudoun County was carried over to 2023. VCOG opposed the bill because of its mandatory non-disclosure agreement. A similar bill in the Senate is still awaiting a vote.
Press freedom groups expressed concern Tuesday after a powerful state senator used a Twitter account run by political consultants to attack a reporter who asked her questions on Capitol Square. Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, the president pro tempore of the Virginia Senate, posted the attack from her Twitter account, which Democratic consultants in recent weeks have promoted to reach a national audience. She now has more than 40,000 followers. The reporter, Ned Oliver of the Virginia Mercury and formerly of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “rudely harassed me in the hallway,” Lucas wrote, “even following me outside.” She wrote that a reporter asking her questions “in between meetings disrupts my work as a legislator.” She complained that Oliver didn’t reach out to her office first before approaching her. “If the Mercury wants to maintain any credibility with legislators they need to hold their ‘journalists’ to a better standard.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A local NAACP activist is accusing Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, of threatening violence against him during a meeting about proposed casino legislation, quoting Morrissey as saying: “I’ll rip your heart out of your chest.” Lafayette Jefferson, the president of the Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, said the threat came during a meeting Monday afternoon inside the office of Del. Kim Taylor, R-Chesterfield, that started off as a constituent meeting about a Morrissey bill that the group opposes. Jefferson said the threat by a sitting lawmaker inside a government building violates general decorum and sends a signal to constituents that they should hesitate before lobbying their lawmakers.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A Freedom of Information request seeking additional information about Bristol, Virginia’s landfill has gone unanswered despite two extensions, Bristol Tennessee City Manager Bill Sorah told his City Council on Tuesday night. The FOIA request was filed by the city’s legal counsel on Jan. 11, Sorah said. Under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, requests must be responded to within five working days. “This had an initial response dated Jan. 18, following a request for an extension, then that moved that date to Jan. 25. On [Jan. 27], there was another request by our counsel to Bristol, Virginia’s council to provide an update, to respond to the FOIA request, and we’ve yet to receive a response to that request for information,” Sorah told council members during their regular monthly meeting.
Bristol Herald Courier

For Richmond BizSense Editor Michael Schwartz, long trips to Virginia courthouses are a daily occurrence.  “Public records in general, that’s 85% of what we do,” Schwartz said of the business-focused publication he’s managed since 2010. He pointed to a recent trip to a courtroom records department about 15 miles outside of Richmond, where he spent a solid two hours poring over documents.  “There’s no way to find out about these cases without going down there,” he said. The need to physically acquire court documents is something journalists like Schwartz, members of the public and even practicing attorneys are often burdened with in Virginia. Access to court proceedings – a First Amendment-protected right – is almost entirely limited to in-person availability. Pushing back on privacy concerns, VCOG's Megan Rhyne said, “Those are logistical problems, not policy reasons for why information can’t be more easily accessible."
Courthouse News Service

Tim Anderson, a Virginia Beach criminal defense attorney and gun shop owner who is beginning his first term in the Virginia House of Delegates, has filed four bills that could ease regulations on gun shops or make it easier for people to buy guns throughout the commonwealth. A gun shop owner writing legislation that impacts his own business may seem to raise questions about conflicts of interest, but Virginia’s ethics rules allow lawmakers to write bills that affect their industry. “Part of the reason you have a citizen legislature is so you have people from all walks of life and social and professional backgrounds come together and forge the best solutions,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.
The Virginian-Pilot

State Del. Tim Anderson, R-83rd District, has introduced measures that would limit donations in Virginia political contests and provide better resources so the public can track political giving. And Anderson wants state election officials to improve access to campaign financial reporting data by making information searchable [HB86], a service the commonwealth does not provide online, though campaign finance reports can be reviewed individually online. Anderson told The Independent News he wants election officials to develop a “data base system that’s maintained by the state department of elections that has easily-discoverable data” a citizen can export. “We all rely on VPAP, which does do all of those things,” Anderson said, speaking of the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, but, while Anderson said VPAP does a great job, that online resource is not a government service. “I think that needs to be fixed,” Anderson said. “I think Virginia should have its own system.”
The Princess Anne Independent News

Front Royal leaders intend to set a policy this month on how the town handles public information requests. The move comes about two months after the town entered into a $25,000 contract with a private company to serve as Front Royal’s public information officer. The Town Council plans to discuss at a special work session on Wednesday a draft policy that, if adopted, would establish how the Front Royal government handles requests for information, including records and documents, as well as general questions. The proposed internal policy lists the procedures the town would follow for responding to a FOIA request, either records or general questions. The policy directs departments, excluding the police department, to send all records requests or general questions to The town manager’s office oversees the email account and determines which department or departments must respond to the request with a deadline on completing the request. The department or departments must advise the town manager as soon as possible if it needs more time to respond.
The Northern Virginia Daily

Thousands of Virginia Beach residents received other people’s tax forms in the mail over the weekend. After Cheryl Douglas of Pembroke Meadows opened an envelope addressed to her that contained her neighbor’s name, address and personal information inside, she posted a warning on the social networking app Nextdoor. “I have no idea where my actual information has been sent and am concerned as to how widespread this situation is,” Douglas wrote. The Department of Taxation confirmed that it incorrectly mailed 1099-G forms to some Virginia Beach taxpayers.
The Virginian-Pilot

The group Loudoun4All is rallying support for the student representative who was heckled for her support of continuing mask requirements during the Jan. 25 School Board meeting. Angela Rivera, a Park View High School student, left the dais to compose herself after an activist from Fairfax County laughed and shouted at her during her remarks. Rivera was escorted out of the meeting by School Board members, and, after a few minutes, returned. Rivera said that she was encouraged by Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian), her principals and advisors gave her words of encouragement before she returned to the dais. Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said, “We’re going to ask that you give us decorum that’s appropriate for one of our students.” Rivera returned to her seat on the dais, and repeated her support of the masking policy.
Loudoun Now

Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Irby, who was assigned to preside over a pair of ongoing recall cases involving school board members, is recusing herself from the cases, according to court records. The court records did not include an explanation for her recusal. Irby was expected to decide whether to allow Fight for Schools, a political action group made up of mostly parents, to join the cases and separately whether to disqualify Commonwealth’s Attorney, Buta Biberaj (D) from prosecuting the cases.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

editorials & columns

In February of 2021 University of Virginia President Jim Ryan appointed a committee to articulate the university’s commitment to free speech and free inquiry. With great fanfare, the Board of Visitors “unequivocally” endorsed the tepid, politically correct statement on June 4, 2021. On June 7, 2021, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to see all documents used by, or submitted to, the Committee on Free Expression and Free Inquiry. “I would expect this to include, without limitation, submissions from faculty and students, the agendas and minutes from the meetings of the Committee, any submissions from Committee members and any outside groups,” I specified. “Essentially, if any document was before the Committee, from any source, I would like it produced.” To make a long story short, it is nearly eight months later and I have seen only a fraction of the documents. UVa has withheld them on the grounds that, even though Ryan was not a member of the Committee, they are the president’s “working papers.”
Walter Smith, Bacon's Rebellion