Transparency News, 3/12/21


 March 12, 2021
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state & local news
"In November 2020, the board voted to publicly reprimand Barts, claiming she publicly disclosed confidential information."
The Suffolk School Board has approved a settlement in a second Freedom of Information Act case that had been scheduled for a trial earlier this month.  As part of the board’s consent agenda, it voted 6-0 — with Sherri Story abstaining — in favor of the settlement agreement, in which it will pay the law firm of Bischoff Martingayle $20,000 in legal fees, which came about as part of a settlement agreement between Jeremy Capps, an attorney representing the Board, and Kevin Martingayle, representing Story, just prior to a scheduled trial March 1 in Suffolk Circuit Court. The second FOIA case centered around an investigative report that resulted from Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III’s hostile work environment complaint against Story, and actions the Board took that Story alleged were in violation of the Act. Though the report is subject to FOIA, it has been pulled from the division’s news section and as an attachment to the item on the Dec. 15 meeting regarding action on closed items.
Suffolk News-Herald

Area paratransit agency Jaunt is now saying its board requested the former CEO’s resignation late last year after it was “no longer comfortable” with his “business judgment.” On Thursday, the agency released a statement along with its fiscal year 2020 audit saying that former CEO Brad Sheffield “purchased numerous expenses for goods, services and travel which violated internal control policies of the corporation.” Sheffield resigned in December, and at the time, Jaunt board members declined to comment on his resignation. In a statement Thursday, Sheffield said no Jaunt policies were violated. When asked for a copy of the “internal control policies of the corporation” that were violated, Jaunt provided a 43-page document titled “Financial and Grants Management Policies and Procedures” and, more specifically, pointed to four pages around determination of allowable costs and expenses, and travel policies/procedures. Jaunt is currently involved in a Freedom of Information lawsuit with local radio show host Rob Schilling. In December, he posted an article to his website claiming an anonymous internal source told him that the agency was under investigation for “spending irregularities.”
The Daily Progress

Five days after the School Board voted to formally censure Leesburg District School Board member Beth Barts, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan on Tuesday announced she also was removing her from committee posts. “It is never an easy decision to take action in judgment of a colleague. As chair it is the most difficult aspect of this leadership position,” Sheridan said in announcing her decision. The censure vote March 4 came after a closed session during which board members concluded Barts’ social media postings violated the board’s private deliberations and spread misinformation. At that time Sheridan announced it was the fifth such meeting to discuss concerns about Barts’ conduct. Following a closed session in November 2020, the board voted to publicly reprimand Barts, claiming she publicly disclosed confidential information.


editorials & columns
"Remove the political overtones — impossible, we know, but try — and it’s easy to see enough smoke to think that a fire is burning somewhere."
Every new revelation about a state watchdog’s report into the Virginia Parole Board’s release of several convicted murderers last year raises more questions about that board’s actions and the subsequent review of those decisions. Together, they make clear that a thorough investigation into the matter is warranted, with the findings available for public review. Anything less risks an erosion of confidence in the parole board, whose work would be served by greater transparency. Remove the political overtones — impossible, we know, but try — and it’s easy to see enough smoke to think that a fire is burning somewhere. And that should compel a thorough and, if at all possible, independent investigation into the whole affair. The governor insists he supports such an inquiry, saying that the public needs answers and the accused board members should have an opportunity to defend themselves. But an attempt by Sens. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and John Bell, D-Loudoun, to establish a select committee to investigate failed late last month. The attorney general and Virginia State Police may be alternatives. That must be decided soon and an investigation launched promptly. The public deserves to know what happened, and a full investigation is the best way to ensure that.
The Virginian-Pilot

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver assured me this week that the death of Drene Keyes of Gloucester, just a few hours after she got a COVID-19 vaccination, was properly investigated by the state — even if there wasn’t a full autopsy. “When a medical examiner takes on a case, it’s not an autopsy versus nothing,” he cautioned. Oliver’s explanation would’ve been better received had it come sooner. The various statements emanating from the Virginia Department of Health since Keyes’ death on Jan. 30 have allowed fear and mistrust to fester about the state’s vaccination program. I wondered whether the state had taken a “head-in-the-sand” approach, as if it feared an autopsy might uncover a possible link between the vaccine and the woman’s death. You can acknowledge the vaccine is generally safe, yet in extremely unique circumstances could result in tragedy. As the Pilot noted, a public records request it filed also discovered state officials were concerned that the death of Keyes, who is Black, could make it tougher to vaccinate minorities who already were hesitant.
Roger Chesley, Virginia Mercury