Transparency News 2/28/19



February 28, 2019


Eventbrite - ACCESS 2019: VCOG's Open Government Conference
April 11 | Hampton University

state & local news stories




“Unfortunately, I think that [withholding documents] can interfere with the trust that citizens have with their government.”

Amid criticisms over a lack of transparency, Richmond Public Schools released its budget for next year. The city School Board voted Monday to approve the 228-page budget, which includes cutting $13 million from its current operating budget. Included in those cuts is a net loss of 49 central office positions — the subject of the administration and a majority of the School Board’s concern for originally withholding details of the budget even though it was an apparent violation of state law and its own policy. “There was a strong desire from the public to have the information disclosed and I wanted to be responsive to that,” Kamras said in an interview Wednesday. “The only reason that I held on releasing it was because we wanted to provide our employees with the dignity of a face-to-face conversation and now that’s not possible. “We always intended to fully release the document, but just once we had the chance to have those conversations.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
The Richmond Public Schools superintendent and school board just released the entire 228-page budget, after facing backlash for not making it available before the board passed it, Monday. The school board cut $13 million and 49 central office positions, but no one knew who would be impacted, except the school board. Superintendent Jason Kamras said he wanted to protect the identities of the people who may lose their jobs, citing why the full budget was not released as a personnel matter. Some called the move unprecedented, and against state law. Kamras is now holding a public meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. at MLK Middle School, to address any questions from staff and the public.
NBC 12
The Richmond Public Schools 2020 budget was released days after the School Board voted to approve the 228-page plan. The School Board voted 6-3 Monday night to approve a budget that would slash nearly 50 central office positions — despite releasing a summarized version of the proposed budget. Megan Rhyne, Executive Director Virginia Coalition of Open Government, explained, “the law says agenda material should be released to the public at the same time the members of the board get it.” She added, “Unfortunately, I think that [withholding documents] can interfere with the trust that citizens have with their government.”

Louisa County sued a landowner it says leaked information about the Shannon Hill industrial park last summer. In a complaint filed Jan. 30 in Louisa Circuit Court, the county says Harold Purcell told his brother, Charles, about the park even though he was forbidden from doing so by a non-disclosure agreement. Charles Purcell proceeded to share that information with the public, according to the complaint, leading several other property owners whose land the county wanted to buy to cut off negotiations. Harold Purcell has not filed a written response yet to the county’s complaint.
The Central Virginian

Since four new members took office on the Norfolk School Board last July, tension has become more common than not. When a meeting ends without board members rolling their eyes, sighing loudly or talking over one another, staff whisper how “well-behaved” they were. The disagreements are just as often about process as they are policy decisions. On more than one occasion, disputes over board procedures have delayed discussions on weighty matters, such as plans for a proposed career and technical high school and a safety task force formed in the fall but not mentioned since. Matters once routine, like the board’s agenda, are picked apart nearly every meeting. Until now, battle lines have been mostly visible in the split votes on most decisions. On Wednesday, the estrangement will be made more apparent when the minority convenes to air its grievances publicly under a policy that allows any two members to call a meeting. It's unclear whether any of the other four will attend. Late Tuesday, the chairwoman ordered notice of the meeting taken down from the school district website.
The Virginian-Pilot
After a regular Monday meeting that lasted about 20 minutes, the Front Royal Town Council adjourned to a roughly 40-minute closed session to discuss debt service related to the Afton Inn’s renovation. The closed session included John Anzivino, Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority interim executive director, and EDA Attorney Dan Whitten. The Freedom of Information Act exemption cited as the reason for going into closed session was consultation with legal counsel regarding “legal mechanisms related to handling potential future debt service related to current and future budget years with respect to the former Afton Inn building.”
The Northern Virginia Daily

The City of Danville has launched CivicReady, which is an enhanced emergency preparedness and mass notification system that will send immediate alerts to citizens who join the system. Upon joining, citizens can choose to receive their alerts by email, text, and a phone call, so they never miss communication about an emergency alert, severe weather warning or community event in the area. “This new tool allows us to communicate with citizens quickly and efficiently before, during and after an emergency or severe weather,” said Tim Duffer, assistant fire chief and emergency management coordinator. “Also, it can be used for routine events and community updates.”


stories of national interest

Two Tennessee lawmakers want to ensure that police officers’ body cameras remain turned on. State Rep. G.A. Hardaway and Sen. Sara Kyle have introduced bills that would make it a felony for officers to intentionally turn off their body-worn cameras to obstruct justice.

A Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer has recommended that UConn be required to hand over to former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie thousands of pages of records he requested from the university in the aftermath of his firing. In a proposed final decision, which will be considered by the full Freedom of Information Commission Wednesday afternoon, hearing officer Matthew Streeter found that UConn violated the law by failing to provide most of the records Ollie requested and has proposed requiring UConn officials undergo remedial training in the Freedom of Information Act.
Hartford Courant




"[The hearing officer] has proposed requiring UConn officials undergo remedial training in the Freedom of Information Act."


editorials & columns



"This action further damages the board’s efforts to build trust with the community."

What part of public doesn’t the Richmond School Board understand regarding the spending plan for Richmond Public Schools? Its action Monday night to approve the upcoming annual budget without releasing the plan’s full details apparently violates the state’s open records law as well as the district’s own written policy. Perhaps more significantly, this action further damages the board’s efforts to build trust with the community.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

IT SEEMS like a simple and common-sense rule: Deep-pocketed private donors should not be able to buy their way into decision-making roles at public institutions. So why does it keep happening in Virginia? Last year, legitimate concerns were raised when it was discovered that big donors, including the Charles Koch Foundation, had been given a say in the hiring and firing of professors at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia’s largest public university. Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring was submitting an application for a full-time special assistant attorney general in his office “to participate much more fully in cooperative efforts to advance the agenda represented by the State Impact Center,” a climate change group at New York University Law School founded—and funded—by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Free Lance-Star