Transparency News, 3/20/20


March 20, 2020
There's at least one thing that hasn't been canceled due to COVID-19......SUNSHINE WEEK!!



state & local news stories
"The silver lining is that many entities that put off employing videoconferencing for whatever reason are now experimenting with options that will, in the future, enhance public participation."
Note: VCOG is keeping in touch with officials in state and local government, press advocates and others about setting guidelines for how public bodies can conduct essential business during the declared state of emergency. There is no easy solution, but everyone I have talked to is committed to finding the right balance between getting the public's business done where the public can see it, and protecting the health of the public and members of the public body. The silver lining is that many entities that put off employing videoconferencing for whatever reason are now experimenting with options that will, in the future, enhance public participation. Watch this space for updates, and stay healthy!

Hanover County is rescheduling a decision on zoning changes for the Wegmans distribution center project. With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a state ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, officials this week canceled all of the county’s board and committee meetings through Tuesday and public hearings scheduled for Wednesday. The decision to cancel the upcoming public hearing on the closely watched case means an anticipated vote on proffer conditions for the development, at a 220-acre site at the intersection of Ashcake and Sliding Hill roads, will be delayed indefinitely. “We will to the best of our ability continue to work on other business items like Wegmans,” Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek said in an interview Thursday. “But there’s no manual or guideline for how you should hold a massive public hearing during a public health crisis; therefore we are postponing.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia Beach staffers will present their proposed budget on Tuesday at city hall — to an empty room and a video camera. An effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the presentation will mark a sharp deviation from the way the city typically unveils its budget to council members and public. Each April, large crowds often attend budget hearings to oppose tax increases, lobby for pet projects or otherwise shape how taxpayer money is spent. Any given meeting can bring out more than 100 people. But during this time of crisis, Virginia Beach and other localities across the state are looking to find new ways to handle government business with limited or no physical audiences.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Henry County Board of Supervisors will meet as scheduled at 3 and 6 p.m. on Tuesday, but with some changes because of coronavirus precautions. For one, the agenda is shorter than usual. That’s by design, officials said. Certain issues involving public input, such as further discussion of Comcast’s proposed franchise agreement with the county, originally scheduled for this meeting, are being pushed to a later date. A proposed VDOT public hearing on the 6-Year Secondary Road Plan also is being postponed. This is in order to comply with the governor’s order limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The meeting will also adhere to that rule by limiting the number of people allowed in the Summerlin meeting room. “No more than 10 people will be allowed to attend the meeting. If more than 10 people show up, they will be required to wait in a separate area until it is time for them to speak.” One agenda item going ahead as planned is a public hearing about proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance regarding solar energy facilities. That hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m., but officials hope people will make any comments ahead of time instead of attending the meeting.
Martinsville Bulletin

The public’s business must go on. In what may be the start of the norm for a local governments in the foreseeable future — because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak — the Williamsburg City Council used the technology of video conferencing Thursday and conducted a “public” meeting, albeit from their homes. That’s the first completely online meeting for the city and featured a number of residents tuning in and commenting on Facebook. One even submitted a question. After some technical difficulties, City Council members were able to stream the meeting from their homes through Facebook Live, and other video platforms, in order to promote social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak. And things got done.

After adjourning a historic legislative session last week, a few Democratic lawmakers crossed Capitol Square to stand with Gov. Ralph Northam at a news conference about the state’s response to COVID-19. Then they left town and went home to their districts. Then the world changed. Though some elected officials have called for a special legislative session on coronavirus relief measures, most General Assembly leaders appear content having Northam — a doctor who specializes in pediatric neurology — leading the state’s battle against the virus and its impacts. A special session could also bring unprecedented logistical challenges, since the 100-member House and 40-member Senate would be violating social distancing guidelines banning public gatherings of more than 10 people. On Thursday, Northam noted that the legislative office buildings had been “disinfected” after lawmakers left and said he and Attorney General Mark Herring are exploring options for how the legislature and other public bodies could meet safely. The General Assembly is scheduled to return to Richmond on April 22 for its regular reconvened session to deal with any gubernatorial vetoes and amendments, and some legislators would rather wait to deal with vital coronavirus-related measures then instead of acting immediately. 
Virginia Mercury