Transparency News, 3/18/21


 March 18, 2021
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state & local news

It's Sunshine Week and VCOG's making the most of working from home with a series of short podcasts to update you on the recently concluded General Assembly. We'll look at how VCOG approaches each session, reviews the bills we followed that did and didn't pass, and we'll take a up-close look at one bill that went our way, and one that did not.
Today's episode: A deeper dive into the criminal investigative records bill

If signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, legislation sponsored by Stafford County Del. Josh Cole would remove the name Jefferson Davis Highway from U.S. 1 throughout the state and instead name it Emancipation Highway. Stafford supervisors have already discussed renaming the road Richmond Highway instead, something the state law would allow. But Supervisor Crystal Vanuch made a different suggestion Tuesday that caught some board members by surprise. Although the suggestion to rename U.S. 1 seemed to surprise many of the supervisors, Vanuch said the details of her idea were distributed ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Several supervisors complained they did not receive the information soon enough. Coen said his vote to defer the matter would allow him and other supervisors additional time to investigate the matter. “We need to do our due diligence and I appreciate the folder being given to me right beforehand, but I could either listen to [Deputy County Administrator Mike] Smith, or I could read this,” said Coen. “Getting it at the last minute didn’t really help the process.” “Then perhaps we should take a 10-minute recess for you to read it,” said Vanuch. “Meeting adjourned for 10 minutes.”
The Free Lance-Star
stories from around the country
A cache of documents pried loose following USA TODAY’s October investigation into Florida’s child welfare system reveals allegations of foster care abuse are more widespread than previously reported.   The nearly 5,000 records detail calls to the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline from teachers, health care professionals, day care workers, neighbors and others about the treatment of kids in state care. USA TODAY requested foster parent disciplinary records in 2019, but DCF officials and executives in charge of nonprofits that run the child welfare system on the local level either denied access or demanded tens of thousands of dollars in search and copy fees. In January, a government official who asked not to be identified provided reporters with foster parent reprimands, license revocation notices and a spreadsheet of 4,300 abuse hotline complaints involving foster and group homes. USA TODAY spent six weeks reviewing the documents. 
USA Today

editorials & opinion
"If the report was biased, then the issue should have been dealt with last year — again, openly and publicly."
Readers count on reporters to cover the events they are not able to attend, to ask the questions they are not able to ask. That is more important than ever during a pandemic that has limited the public’s interaction with the government it elected. While technology has made massive strides — and if used properly, has expanded access in many ways — it “has created more problems” for public oversight, as David Cuillier, an associate journalism professor at the University of Arizona and president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, put it. During this year’s Sunshine Week, we recognize that with our forced separation and the use of technology comes an ability for those in government to curate the conversation. Reporters can find it difficult to log in, ask questions and reach sources they would normally have seen face-to-face during in-person public meetings. Certainly, members of the public who might have found it relatively easy to attend a meeting and ask a question or give input have varying degrees of internet access and technological know-how that change their ability to interact with their government.
Daily News Record

Virginia’s reputation as a good government state is taking a beating from the parole board scandal. Earlier this month, the governor’s chief of staff discussed long-standing concerns about the report. The administration had held a meeting with the OSIG last year to dig into claims that the board had exhibited bias, Clark Mercer said. But the problem is: No one could independently review the report to confirm either that assessment or the report’s claims — because the administration wouldn’t make it fully public. That lack of transparency raised obvious concerns. If the report was biased, then the issue should have been dealt with last year — again, openly and publicly. Mr. Mercer said “a lot of unsubstantiated accusations [are] being bandied about and a lot of politics being played.” Well, that’s what can happen in an information vacuum. If the administration wanted to avoid that kind of speculation, it should have confronted the situation head-on at the start.
The Daily Progress

The Virginia Beach City Council says it wants to improve oversight of law enforcement. Its actions say otherwise. Members voted 6-5 at the council’s annual retreat — not at a formal meeting, which represents its own problem — against granting subpoena power and access to investigation records to a board that would deal with complaints against officers. According to Mayor Bobby Dyer, allowing such oversight — real, actual oversight rather than just lip service — would make it more challenging for the city to recruit officers for the city. That, of course, raises the question about what sort of folks the Beach hopes to attract. The sort that bristle at the notion of accountability? Hmmmm.
The Virginian-Pilot