Transparency News, 3/17/20


March 17, 2020
There's at least one thing that hasn't been canceled due to COVID-19......SUNSHINE WEEK!!



state & local news stories
"Fewer than 10 people showed up, with trash bags covering a majority of the seats in chambers. About 33 people signed up to participate online."
Members of the James City County Board of Supervisors said they would meet Tuesday to discuss COVID-19. Topics on the agenda included confirming the declaration of local emergency that came on March 13, updates on coronavirus conditions, and consideration of future steps the county could take to address the situation. At least one of the two people who died in Virginia as of March 16 lived in James City County. Health officials reported his death on March 14. They reported the second death Monday, but they didn't specify where in the Peninsula Health District the second man lived. The board said the meeting would air live on the county's information channel (Channel 48 on cable) and would stream on James City County's YouTube channel. There was no public comment built into the special meeting which is why board members encouraged people to watch on television or online.

Prince William County Public Schools officials announced Monday the school board meeting on March 18 will be closed to the public after the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. The school board is set to consider its fiscal year 2021 budget at the March 18 meeting, according to the agenda online. The school board is required to approve its budget before April 1, according to the school division. The meeting will be closed except for the school board, Superintendent Steve Walts and the board's clerk. Citizen comment time is canceled, although the division asks people to send their comments to the board via email.  The meeting will be recorded in Facebook live, according to the division.

As the world around it ground to a halt, Charlottesville City Council tried its best to continue with business as usual. The chambers were unusually empty for Monday’s council meeting amid the coronavirus pandemic. Attendance at the meeting was limited and discouraged, with occupancy capped at 30 people. Fewer than 10 people showed up, with trash bags covering a majority of the seats in chambers. About 33 people signed up to participate online.
The Daily Progress

Government as usual is now being affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Several governing bodies in the New River and Roanoke valleys either canceled their regularly scheduled meetings this week or they will happen under special conditions. Montgomery County has decided to cancel both of its board of supervisor meetings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday nights this week. Monday night’s meeting was going to be a special work session to go over the proposed budget, while Tuesday’s was set to be the annual joint meeting with the school board. Meanwhile, the Blacksburg Town Council is going ahead with its meeting — but is asking the public not to attend. And in Roanoke on Monday, the city council held its regular 2 p.m. meeting, but, in adherence to social distancing recommendations, changed its seating arrangement. Instead of all seven members sitting elbow to elbow on the dais, they left every other chair open, and two members sat at a table on the floor in front of the dais.
The Roanoke Times

The chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court on Monday declared a “judicial emergency” in light of the new coronavirus outbreak — ordering thousands of trials and other court hearings around the state postponed for at least three weeks. Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons ordered that most hearings — traffic, civil and criminal cases at all levels — scheduled between now and April 6 be put on hold. The hearings will be rescheduled. But "emergency matters” will go forward as scheduled, Lemons wrote. Those include arraignments and bond hearings for those in custody, as well as protective orders, emergency child custody hearings and civil commitment hearings.
Daily Press

The Virginia Cavaliers will host the Norfolk State Spartans in 2026 and the Richmond Spiders in 2028, has learned. Copies of football competition agreements with Norfolk State and Richmond were obtained from the University of Virginia via a state Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Virginia will host Norfolk State at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., on November 21, 2026. The Cavaliers will pay the Spartans a $420,000 guarantee for the contest, according to the copy of the contract.
stories of national interest
The news media has shown a declining interest and involvement in FOI litigation and legal actions. And while news media continue to make up the largest clients litigating public record lawsuits,  for the first time since 2009, NFOIC’s Biennial Open Government Survey showed that members of the public outnumbered  newspapers as the larger client group for attorneys pursuing open government cases.   Of the more than 100 survey respondents from across the U.S., nearly half were journalists and about one-fourth identified as state coalition members of NFOIC. Other self-identified stakeholder groups included attorneys, civic technologists, press association representatives and a handful of government agencies/elected officials. Thirty-five attorneys responded to the survey question about their client base.

Amid a national emergency over the spread of the novel coronavirus, White House officials will hold a conference call with state and local government officials from around the country on Wednesday. But the public won’t be allowed to listen in. An online invitation for the call, obtained by the Miami Herald, notes that the call “is not intended for press purposes and is not on the record.” “Media should not be invited to participate in this conference bridge call and will be asked to disconnect at the inception of the conference,” the invitation says.

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified on Thursday on Capitol Hill that public health officials discussed coronavirus information in classified rooms on occasions “too numerous to count," though he said the information wasn't treated as classified. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the White House ordered federal health officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the nation’s premier health agency, to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, citing four Trump administration officials. The officials said that dozens of such discussions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at HHS, which oversees the CDC, and that staffers without security clearances have been excluded. After the story was published, the National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot emailed Reuters on Wednesday evening, saying, “The White House has never ordered any agency ‘to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified,’” as the story alleged. “This story is fake news,” he wrote.
"Media should not be invited to participate in this conference bridge call and will be asked to disconnect at the inception of the conference.”


editorials & columns
"That’s made [the GMU law school] a target of activist groups and Freedom of Information Act requests from progressives who argue conservatives have too much influence."
The campaign for intellectual conformity in higher education could win a major and destructive victory as George Mason University moves to violate the agreement that established Antonin Scalia Law School. After Scalia died in 2016, a donor, described as a friend of the Justice, offered $20 million to rename GMU’s law school in his honor. GMU, a Virginia-based public university, agreed to condition the gift on the donor’s anonymity. The name officially changed that year. Yet this month GMU threatened to renege on its contract by identifying the donor, according to a motion filed in Arlington County Court. The motion asked for a temporary restraining order, which was granted Thursday, but the case isn’t over. GMU could win the lawsuit, while the donor says the agreement has already been breached and may demand the return of $16 million. The background is that since the law-school renaming was proposed, liberal faculty and students have been up in arms. GMU, like most universities, leans left, but its law school is a rare bastion of classical liberal thinking in higher education. That’s made it a target of activist groups and Freedom of Information Act requests from progressives who argue conservatives have too much influence.
Wall Street Journal