Transparency News 2/3/20



February 3, 2020

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state & local news stories



House Bill 671 advanced from a subcommittee on a 5-1 vote and will now head to the full House Courts of Justice Committee. This is the bill that VCOG developed with Del. Mike Mullin (an identical version patroned by Del. Jason Miyares was incorporated into 671) to require the Office of Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court to respond to requests for records through FOIA. Once under FOIA, the OES could use existing exemptions and ask for additional exemptions to fit its specific needs, just as other government entities do.

Here's a link to the full committee information.

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Students, faculty and advocates lined up at the podium Wednesday to voice support and concern for a bill that would extend free speech protection to student journalists. Some students traveled from Northern Virginia and Culpeper to snag a spot in the crowded House subcommittee room in support of First Amendment rights and to meet with legislators on National Student Press Freedom Day. House Bill 36, patroned by former WDBJ journalist Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, advanced out of subcommittee on a 5-3 vote.
The Virginia Gazette

Bristol, Virginia’s city manager and Commonwealth’s Attorney are refusing to release the investigative report on the death of a man after an altercation with police. News 5 previously made a Freedom of Information request to review the report. On December 28, police reported an officer pulled over a driver for an equipment violation on Commonwealth Avenue. They said that driver drove away to West State Street, got out of his car and ran away. Then, they said a Bristol, Virginia officer tackled him. After news five made repeated requests for more information, Virginia State Police finally confirmed January 22 that the driver, 40-year-old Frederick Sullins of Bristol, Tennessee, had died. State police added that they turned over their investigative report to Commonwealth’s Attorney Jerry Wolfe, who said Sullins’s death was accidental. In denying News 5 the investigative report, city manager Randy Eads cited state law that allows the file to be released, but also gives him the discretion not to release it.

Radford University concluded its investigation in November of the approximately 1,000 copies of the student newspaper that went missing from its campus last semester — but there remain some who are not satisfied. Dylan Lepore — a senior and The Tartan’s editor-in-chief — wrote as much in a letter sent to President Brian Hemphill and published on the paper’s website Thursday. The media studies major’s letter begins, “It’s been 133 days since The Tartan’s newspapers were stolen Sept. 18. Still no conclusion.” While the administration has denied any involvement in the incident from its inception, Lepore said he believes the university didn’t complete a thorough investigation. Lepore wrote in his letter that, “Not retaining surveillance videos, requested under the Freedom of Information Act, is reprehensible.” University spokeswoman Caitlyn Scaggs said the university had no comment on why the video not protected by Virginia’s freedom of information laws under “personnel matters” or an “ongoing investigation” was deleted and not handed over to the parties that requested them.
The Roanoke Times

A petition to remove two Warren County supervisors from office continues working its way through court. When it was initially filed in October, the petition sought to remove the entire board sitting at the time, which included Tony Carter, Archie Fox, Linda Glavis, Daniel Murray and Tom Sayre. Glavis, Murray and Sayre, however, either lost in the November election or did not run. A complaint related to the petition was recently amended to include just Fox and Carter, both of whom ran unopposed in 2018 with terms set to expire in 2022.  The complaint revolves around the supervisors’ alleged lacking oversight of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, whose former Executive Director Jennifer McDonald has been indicted on 32 felony counts related to alleged financial improprieties.
The Northern Virginia Daily

As Front Royal Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick prepares to present the Town Council with a proposed budget on Monday, four town employees have been notified of their pending terminations. Tederick – who was appointed interim manager in November after a stint as interim mayor – explained over the phone that aspects of the proposed budget include outsourcing the Tourism Department and reorganizing the departments of planning and engineering. Another suggestion, he said, is to make the Town Council's clerk a part-time position. He declined to identify which employees were fired but said they have until Tuesday to "sever ties" with the town government and decide whether to accept a severance package, details of which he declined to explain citing personnel matters.
The Northern Virginia Daily

The Halifax County Board of Supervisors broke new ground at a special called meeting Wednesday night to sort out a controversy over the board’s rightful chairman. The opening act of the meeting — the offering of an invocation prayer — drew an objection. The basis for the objection, said Supervisor Stanley Brandon, was that the person calling for the prayer in the role of board chairman, ED-3 supervisor Hubert Pannell, is not in fact the board chairman. “It’s a continuing breach of the laws, rules and procedures as stated in Roberts Rules of Order,” said Brandon. Pannell shot back: “I heard the objection and we are going to proceed with the invocation,” which ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short then gave. Supervisors thus proceeded to bat around a single item of business — the identity of the board’s rightful chairman — during an acrimonious, hour-long session that ended with a second vote ratifying the initial tally taken during the Jan. 6 organizational meeting. By a 5-2-1 vote — nearly the same as the first ballot— Pannell was elected board chairman, again.
South Boston News & Record

stories of national interest

On Jan. 31, 2019, after BuzzFeed News revealed that Family Tree DNA was working with the FBI to solve murders and rapes using its DNA database, the genetic testing company put out a press release that stated: “If we can help prevent violent crimes and save lives or bring closure to families, then we’re going to do that.” Just days later, Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA forensics company that had by then already solved nearly three dozen cases by finding suspects through their family trees, asked for permission to upload crime scene DNA profiles to Family Tree DNA’s database to search for potential matches. The request was not granted, email correspondence obtained by BuzzFeed News under a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI shows. “My answer is no…” Family Tree DNA CEO Bennett Greenspan wroteon Feb. 4 to Steve Kramer, a lawyer in the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, in an email in which he forwarded Parabon’s request.