Transparency News, 2/8/2022


February 8, 2022

There was no newsletter yesterday, Feb. 7.

state & local news stories


VCOG's annual
bill chart


Two Dulles Greenway-backed bills to change the way tolls are governed on the state’s only private highway has been sent to next year in General Assembly committee votes. The bills, filed by Del. David A. Reid (D-32) and Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33), sought to relieve the Dulles Greenway of new regulation passed last year, instead allowing the state Commissioner of Highways to negotiate a new deal on tolls with the highway owners unilaterally. The bills also added would have further shielding information about the Greenway’s finances from public disclosure with non-disclosure agreements and a new Freedom of Information Act exemption specifically for that information. Both bills were tabled until the 2023 General Assembly session in their respective chamber’s transportation committee this week.
Loudoun Now

The sponsor of a House of Delegates bill on a new referendum for the Augusta County courthouse said Friday that the reason testimony was halted and a vote taken was because the subcommittee hearing the legislation was up against a time deadline for use of the room. The House Counties, Cities & Towns subcommittee had the room scheduled for just one hour, from 7:30-8:30 a.m., according to the agenda on the General Assembly website. Discussions on bills earlier in the agenda took a long time, which meant that bills on the back end of the agenda, which included the courthouse bill, had to be dispensed with quickly because other committees were set to use the room. "Unfortunately, time constraints caused the last few bills on the docket to be rushed with limited time for public comment," said Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, the bill's sponsor.
News Leader

A bill that’s moving through the House of Delegates gives residents of the Wise County town of Pound a year to “get their house in order” or lose their town charter. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, said he introduced the legislation to revoke the charter at the request of county officials. Over the last two years, he told a House subcommittee Friday, the situation in the town has been “a comedy of errors.” The town council no longer has a quorum after several members resigned, he said. The town doesn’t provide water or sewer service. The police department has been disbanded, leading the Wise County commonwealth’s attorney to dismiss “all kinds of cases,” he said. And someone in the town recently discovered $20,000 in checks in a drawer, he said. The subcommittee also unanimously reported out a bill of Kilgore’s that would terminate the Lee County town of St. Charles, which has not had a seated town council since 2016 and has just 73 residents. An identical bill is making its way through the state Senate. 
Cardinal News

Following the State Air Pollution Control Board’s denial of an air permit for a compressor station that would anchor an offshoot of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Republicans are proposing to limit the powers of the citizen boards that oversee Virginia’s major water, air and waste decisions.  Proponents, including manufacturers and other business interests, say the changes are needed to promote “certainty” in the state’s permitting processes.  “These citizen boards, everyone knows, are appointed by the governor, so they swing back and forth probably more wildly than business likes,” said Del. Rob Bloxom, R-Accomack, during a Feb. 2 subcommittee hearing. “  But opponents say the boards rarely reject permits or go against state agency advice, and that the bills would strip needed transparency from the review process.  “The citizen boards are not a barrier to the issuance of permits to industry,” said Patrick Fanning, an attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “They actually provide an important level of transparency and opportunity for public input, and they ensure that important decisions are not made behind closed doors.” 
Virginia Mercury

stories of national interest

"The court said federal rules adopted by an agency don’t preempt Michigan laws, including the state’s Freedom of Information Act."

A new lawsuit alleges D.C. Police bucked the mayor’s commitment to transparency and created a list of reporters, activists and community members whose requests for information were intentionally delayed or dismissed. In the complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Feb. 2, defense attorney Amy Phillips alleged that the city’s police department “maintains a list of people whose requests for information under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act are set aside for special review by high-ranking officials, including the Chief of Police.”

A Beaufort County (South Carolina) jury on Thursday awarded a total of $50 million in damages to the mayor of Bluffton in a defamation case against a longtime government critic. The 12-member jury returned its first verdict at about 2 p.m. after less than two hours of deliberations, deciding that Skip Hoagland must pay $40 million in actual damages to Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, who had filed a libel lawsuit against him in 2017. The jury then returned its second verdict around 3 p.m. following roughly an hour of deliberations, deciding that Hoagland must pay $10 million in punitive damages to Sulka. Hoagland was not in the courtroom when the verdicts were read. Informed of the jury’s decision in a Thursday phone call, Hoagland laughed and said, “that’s a joke, right? ... That’s insanity.”
The Island Packet

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled the Calhoun County jail must divulge records related to a detention on behalf of the federal immigration agency. The court said records related to Calhoun County’s three-day detention of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez are not exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. The sheriff’s office tried to shield the records because Ramos-Gomez was held on behalf of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The decision was unanimous. “A regulation cannot serve as the basis for exempting from disclosure public records,” the opinion said, “…  because a regulation is not a statute.” The court said federal rules adopted by an agency don’t preempt Michigan laws, including the state’s Freedom of Information Act.


editorials & columns

"To recap: The governor issued an order to ban a theory not taught in public schools, set up a government email address for Virginians to report teachers, and won’t let anyone see those emails."

To enforce this order, Youngkin’s office established an email tip line for parents to submit complaints about schools and educators they feel are teaching “inherently divisive concepts.” What will the governor do with these complaints? He has yet to say and, last week, denied media requests to review submissions, hiding behind a provision of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act that shields the governor’s “working papers” from public view. To recap: The governor issued an order to ban a theory not taught in public schools, set up a government email address for Virginians to report teachers, and won’t let anyone see those emails. That’s quite a start. Is it any wonder that educators are worried about the potential consequences to their careers and reputations as a result? (And that’s to say nothing about the fear many have that rescinding the masking order could put their health at risk.) The ironic thing, the infuriating thing, is that these are the educational professionals the governor could enlist as agents of change had he adopted a different approach. 
The Roanoke Times