Transparency News, 3/24/20


March 24, 2020
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state & local news stories
The FOIA Council has offered this guidance on in-person and electronic meetings, taking into account the AG's opinion. It's the top-line entry on the council's page.

While Gov. Ralph Northam is banning groups of more than 10 people from gathering, and encouraging people to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, more than 109,000 state employees are getting creative with their workspaces.
The Virginian-Pilot

Martinsville City Council has decided to cancel Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting in Council Chambers and postpone upcoming budget reviews, too. But the Henry County Board of Supervisors is going forward with both of its scheduled meetings at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m Tuesday — with extra rules and a reduced agenda. Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki said the budget presentation set for 7:30 p.m. would be rescheduled for May 26, with a public hearing on June 9 and final adoption on June 23. The fiscal year begins on July 1. VDOT also had canceled a public meeting scheduled for Thursday in Ridgeway to gather input on the preferred route for the U.S. 220 Southern Connector from the North Carolina state line to the U.S. 220/U.S. 58 bypass. A public hearing by supervisors remains for 6 p.m. Tuesday regarding proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance as it pertains to solar energy facilities. County officials are asking residents to make comments electronically in advance of the meeting or by calling the Department of Planning, Zoning and Inspections at 276-634-4620.
Martinsville Bulletin

During the Bedford County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday night, supervisors met in an empty board room sitting several feet apart and broadcast the meeting through Liberty University’s website for residents. During its work session, board members discussed changes in the budget, new position requests and the coronavirus as it relates to the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget.
News & Advance

Social distancing measures will be used when the Frederick County Board of Supervisors holds a budget public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the County Administration Building at 107 N. Kent St. Although many government meetings are being canceled over coronavirus concerns, the hearing remains on the calendar to comply with time requirements mandated by state code, according to county officials. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, citizens who do not wish to attend the hearing in person are encouraged to submit their comments in writing. During the meeting, the Board of Supervisors and county staff will take measures to limit the number of people in the meeting room, hallways and outside the building to comply with federal and state guidelines.
The Winchester Star

The agenda for tonight’s Bristol Virginia City Council meeting includes provisions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including allowing members to participate in certain meetings electronically. The council is scheduled to convene its regular meeting at 6 p.m., but some future meetings may involve participation by telephone. According to the resolution’s summary memo, “Adoption of this policy provides the city the opportunity to continue to conduct business when it may not be practical for all five council members to assemble in the same physical location. Current state law allows for a meeting without a quorum physically assembled in one location only if a state of emergency is declared and the purpose of the meeting is only to take actions directly related to that emergency.” “The attorney general opinion that was issued late Friday reminds all localities that the requirements of FOIA, open government and transparency remain critically important,” City Manager Randy Eads said.
Herald Courier

The Board of Supervisors for Shenandoah and Warren counties meet tonight as scheduled but the public cannot attend in person. The decisions by the boards come in response to the threat of the spread of COVID-19 and to Gov. Ralph Northam’s order limiting the number of people in a gathering to 10 people. Anyone interested in listening to the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors meeting can do so by visiting The board meeting begins at 7 p.m. Members of the public can send comments via email to by 4 p.m. today. Board members’ contact information is also available on the county website. County Administrator Evan Vass said he and Chairman John R. “Dick” Neese decided that board members would conduct and participate in the meeting via conference call. The county will broadcast the meeting live through its website. Warren County’s announcement issued Monday states that the public may not appear in person at the board’s meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. today. Essential government employees may attend the meeting.
The Northern Virginia Daily

To comply with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to help reduce the possible spread of the coronavirus, and for the safety of residents, Monday’s Wytheville Town Council meeting will not be open for public attendance. However, the meeting can be viewed live on the town of Wytheville Facebook Page. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Board meetings are posted on YouTube within a day or two of the meeting.
Wytheville Enterprise

John Randolph Medical Center currently is treating a patient confirmed with novel coronavirus, but because the patient is not a Hopewell resident, it is not considered a Hopewell case, according to an email from a city councilor. In a post to constituents Friday night, Ward 3 Councilor John B. Partin Jr. shared an update on the COVID-19 outbreak from City Manager John M. Altman Jr. In that update, Altman stated that while no Hopewell residents are confirmed with the virus, John Randolph is treating a patient from Chesterfield County diagnosed with it.Because the patient is a Chesterfield resident, Altman said the Crater Health District — which includes Hopewell — does not classify it as a Hopewell-based statistic. A message left with HCA Virginia, which owns JRMC, seeking comment on the information has yet to be returned. According to the state Department of Health, five COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Chesterfield County. However, VDH is not releasing where in the county the cases reside, citing federal HIPAA privacy regulations.
The Progress-Index
stories of national interest
They were both yelling.  She banged the gavel and walked off. He pointed his fingers and clapped in frustration. The showdown last week between the mayor of Lake Worth Beach, Fla., and a city commissioner, captured in an explosive two-minute-and-17-second video clip that resulted in death threats by viewers, provides a glimpse into the high-stakes tension facing local government officials across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak. Debates over shutdowns and containment measures and their economic impact are boiling over as stakes rise.
The New York Times

"An explosive . . . provides a glimpse into the high-stakes tension facing local government officials."


editorials & columns
"The City Hall lobby was opened for members of the public to watch the proceedings while keeping appropriate social distance."
As local and state governments respond to the coronavirus pandemic, decision- and policymakers must act in the sunshine. During this time of crisis, it is more important than ever that the public’s business be conducted in full public view. This is not only a necessary but achievable standard. Without transparency in deliberation and decision-making, rumor and conspiracy theories proliferate just as sure as the virus, infecting communities with misinformation and breeding mistrust. The Kirkland City Council is showing how it’s done, taking to heart that crucial trust it has with its constituents and their right to know. Public servants in search of ideas can look to places like Kirkland, which recently held its first virtual city council meeting. Council members convened by video conference. The meeting was broadcast on the city channel and livestreamed on the internet. The City Hall lobby was opened for members of the public to watch the proceedings while keeping appropriate social distance. City staff — including a handful of Information Technology workers — appeared in council chambers, sitting well apart.
The Seattle Times