Transparency News, 3/14/2023


March 14, 2023

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state & local news stories


Portsmouth City Council members met in a closed session Monday to tell City Assessor Patrick Dorris he is being fired. Council members met to discuss Dorris’ performance, where he was told he was being terminated. An official public vote was not taken, but one is expected at Tuesday’s regular council meeting. Councilman De’Andre Barnes was absent, and Councilman Mark Whitaker opposed a motion certifying the closed meeting, stating that other matters were discussed that shouldn’t have been.
The Virginian-Pilot

Officials with the Norfolk Police Department say they are close to selecting a new police chief. The department has narrowed the list to the three remaining, yet unidentified finalists from 25 qualified candidates at the beginning of the search. City leadership is now asking for public input ahead of the selection. During the process, candidates were asked to answer a series of questions on topics including policing equity; community-based violence intervention and prevention; their respective approaches to recruitment, selection and retention of a qualified and diverse workforce; and how they identify with the Norfolk Police Department’s guiding principles.

The Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted last week to make a formal finding to deny former chief animal control officer Todd Moser’s claim to state retirement benefits after Moser resigned his post in 2021 for embezzling funds from the county animal shelter. Moser, who pleaded guilty in September to two counts of felony embezzlement of some $13,000, is seeking to tap proceeds of the Virginia Retirement System as “a vested member of the VRS receiving retirement benefits,” said his attorney, John Greenbacker Jr. of Halifax. Supervisors discussed the matter at their March 6 meeting after going into closed session following the main portion of the meeting. Also taking part in the discussion were Greenbacker and the county’s attorney on the matter, Jeremy Carroll. When the board came back into open session — by which time most members of the public had left for the night — Carroll cited Virginia Code 51.1-124.13, the law that empowers VRS to strip benefits from persons who have been convicted of felonies arising from their conduct in office. The code section also spells out a detailed set of requirements for local and state governing entities to follow in notifying VRS of potential forfeiture actions, and giving affected persons full rights to appeal.
News & Record

For two straight nights, emotional residents near and far brought their outrage, concerns, and hope to both the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and Staunton City Council. Voices shook as some residents fought back tears, while others could hardly contain their rage. Others seemed disappointed, and still, there was hope amongst residents that their voices could effect some kind of change. The reason for these voices to speak out was what they saw as mismanagement at the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center in Lyndhurst, and the decision last week to euthanize four dogs at the facility.
News Leader

stories of national interest

Nine months after the massacre at Robb Elementary School that left 21 dead and 17 injured, the Uvalde district attorney and the Texas Department of Public Safety continue to fight the release of records, First Amendment attorney Laura Lee Prather told a district judge. “Calls for transparency and accountability have run loud and clear. They’ve reverberated in public settings throughout the state,” said Prather, lead counsel for a consortium of more than a dozen news organizations who have sued to obtain a trove of records to report on the law enforcement failings in Uvalde. "The district attorney and DPS ... have strived to mandate silence over anyone and everyone who was a part of the response that day.”
Austin American-Statesman

editorials & columns


To witness bipartisanship at the Texas Capitol, look to the lawmakers who are working to improve open government laws. Legislators from both political parties are igniting interest in transparency and creating the opportunity for all lawmakers to protect the people’s right to know. They’re carrying on our state’s legacy of openness. When the reform-minded 1973 Legislature enacted the Texas Public Information Act, known then as the Open Records Act, it established one of the nation’s strongest transparency laws. This year marks its 50th anniversary. Court rulings and other actions have weakened the law, but as we celebrate open government during Sunshine Month throughout March let’s rally around the bills Texas legislators have filed this session to fortify the landmark act.
Kelley Shannon, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas