Transparency News 2/26/20



February 26, 2020

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state & local news stories



A judge in Virginia barred reporters from attending a court hearing for a teen accused of killing his mother and 6-year-old brother. The Washington Post reported that the first court appearance for Levi Norwood, 17, was closed to the public in Fauquier County Circuit Court on Monday. District Judge Melissa Cupp ordered reporters out of the hearing. She cited the need to protect jury selection and the teen's privacy.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The former executive director of the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport goes to trial this week on federal fraud charges surrounding a failed bid to bring a new airline to the airport six years ago. Kenneth R. “Ken” Spirito Jr. faces a litany of charges — from misuse of public funds to obstruction of justice — stemming from a $5 million loan guarantee to People Express Airlines, which collapsed a few months after it began service in 2014. Fired by the airport’s board in 2017, Spirito is also accused of lying in sworn statements about his role in the airport’s plan to pay the debt. He faces a separate allegation that he put $5,200 on an airport credit card to pay for repairs and warranty to personal vehicles after car accidents during the workday. Spirito's attorney, Trey Kelleter, contends in court filings that Spirito didn’t commit a crime, and is being made the scapegoat for “an unpopular business decision" on the part of several local players.
Daily Press

Heritage Oaks Golf Course members expressed frustrations with the city’s transparency and concerns about the course’s future on Monday. “Just tell us what’s going on,” Larry Haaland, a golf course member and Harrisonburg resident, said in an interview after the public comment period of the the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meeting at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center. Over 40 people were at the meeting, and many were members of the golf course who spoke in favor of keeping the golf course open and praised its staff during the public comment period. After the meeting, members still had concerns about the transparency of the golf course’s operations as conversations have flared up about keeping the city-funded course open as new expenses come forward, such as the new high school and other needed public projects.
Daily News Record

With scheduled reports on Warren County, Commonwealth’s Attorney and Town Police business on its Monday evening agenda, the Front Royal Town Council expected to begin its February 24 meeting listening. However, it was six citizens who delayed receipt of those scheduled reports with ongoing “Public Comment” questions and criticism of the council’s budget decision-making processes. A remaining question for those citizens was, “Do you hear us?” And beginning with opening speaker Gary Kushner, for several the answer appeared to be “We don’t think so”.
Royal Examiner

stories of national interest

"Extreme booty shaking," "pole dancing" and "S&M outfits." That's how fans described this year's Super Bowl LIV halftime show featuring performances by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, according to the more than 1,300 complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission in the hours following the Feb. 2 national broadcast. "The show was not appropriate for a general audience. It was sexually explicit and would have been considered soft porn not many years ago," wrote one Wyoming viewer. WFAA obtained the records through a Freedom of Information Act request. "I do not subscribe to The Playboy Channel, we do not buy porn for $20 a flick, we simply wanted to sit down as a family and watch the Super Bowl," wrote a viewer from Spring Hill, Tenn. "God forbid we expected to watch football and a quick concert but instead had our eyes molested."

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s use of an encrypted messaging app on his private phone poses serious ethical and legal questions, government watchdog groups said Sunday. The app, Signal, features end-to-end encryption and is “painstakingly engineered to keep your communication safe,” the company’s website boasts. “We can’t see your messages or your calls, and no one else can either,” the site reads. The app allows users to set their messages to disappear, deleting them permanently from the public record. “The big question is does the Signal App follow city and state archiving laws,” said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a good government group that advocates for increased transparency in New York. “Getting information through the Freedom of Information Law depends on the archiving laws being followed,” he said, “City Hall needs to put out a clear message on how it will comply with the records when using the Signal App.”
New York Post

Perhaps there’s no government policy or program that's as widely reviled, yet universally pursued, as tax incentives. Study after study demonstrates that when states and cities give out tax breaks to companies looking to relocate or expand, they typically get very limited bang for their bucks, if any. Yet such incentives remain central to development strategies in most jurisdictions. A study published last summer found that three-quarters of local economic development dollars are devoted to tax incentives, with the amount spent on them tripling since the 1990s. “There’s still a lot of economic development brainpower devoted to the Amazon HQ2, let’s-win-the-lottery approach,” says John Lettieri, president and CEO of the Economic Innovation Group, a research and advocacy firm. The big, swing-for-the-fences deals — the pursuit of Amazon HQ2, Wisconsin’s $4 billion deal with Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer — hardly ever pay off as promised. But run-of-the-mill incentive packages often turn out to be mistakes, as well.