Transparency News, 3/24/21


 March 24, 2021
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state & local news stories

 "Wave that wand of power, and let's cut them loose. There needs to be a silver lining to all this! Give me more!!!"
Governor Ralph Northam has said for weeks that he's in favor of an outside investigation into the Office of the State Inspector General’s (OSIG) reports about the Virginia Parole Board. Tuesday, he promised to set aside funds for that investigation. CBS 6 obtained internal Virginia Parole Board emails detailing their deliberations. Dated April 2020, one shows then Parole Board Chair Adrianne Bennett telling a parolee his early discharge certificate was "not normal protocol." In one email, Bennett says to board employee Laura Hall, “I will release anyone you say to release,” referring to parolees still being supervised. Hall replied that she felt "drunk with power,” and updated Bennett on her progress. Bennett responded "Wave that wand of power, and let's cut them loose. There needs to be a silver lining to all this! Give me more!!!"

For nearly a year, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has been facing questions about the work of the five-member state parole board. What began as a controversy over a handful of cases last spring has escalated into a bitter, mostly partisan dispute involving a fired investigator at the state government watchdog agency and allegations of a cover-up. A look at how we got here.
Associated Press

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker on Tuesday night proposed giving city councilors an allowance of city funds to use as they see fit, including to bring speakers before council who they believe could contribute to conversations about city business. Walker proposed the measure during a policy and procedures work session about proposed changes to the city’s credit card use policy. Walker made the suggestion during discussion of a part of the proposed policy that says council as a body would have to approve payouts to individuals or groups. Robertson said that if the council votes to put this procedure in place, councilors who want to bring in a specific expert or speaker will need to provide rationale for why they want to compensate that person. “They are not just selected because they are your friend, but they are selected through some sort of process that makes those positions available based on certain criteria,” Robertson said. Council will vote on the policy changes on April 5th.
The Daily Progress

Surry County’s Board of Supervisors plans to accept letters of interest through March 29 from qualified residents who wish to fill the seat of Carsley District Supervisor Kenneth Holmes, who resigned due to health reasons. State code empowers the board to appoint someone to fill the vacancy within 45 days. That deadline is April 14. In his resignation letter, which was dated Feb. 28 and provided to The Smithfield Times by the county in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Holmes said he was leaving his position effective immediately “with reluctance and some sadness” due to “illness accompanied by serious health challenges [that] have preempted my tenure and fervent desire to serve as Supervisor to the Carsley district.”
The Smithfield Times

stories from around the country

A judge found Shawnee County technically failed to meet the requirements when responding to Kansas Open Records Act Requests, but said the infractions were too minor to constitute acting in bad faith. Shelby Development LLC and its owner Chris Payne sued county clerk Cynthia Beck, saying the county didn’t provide timely responses to KORA requests it filed. The lawsuit also alleges some documents weren’t shared and some records were incorrectly closed. Beck is the county’s freedom of information officer and can handle KORA requests. Requests should be responded to within three business days and provide reasoning for why some documents weren’t included and when they might be available.
The Topeka Capital-Journal

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against Flint, Michigan, as the city failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Mackinac Center sent a FOIA request for the names and gross salaries of the city’s public employees on Jan. 7, 2021. After receiving no communication from the city, the Center sent a follow up correspondence on Feb. 26. Over two and a half months have passed since the request was sent, and the city of Flint has yet to even acknowledge that the request was received. This is despite the fact the city is legally obligated to respond within five business days.
Mackinac Center for Public Policy

A federal judge sharply criticized the Justice Department Tuesday for speaking to the press about its case against alleged members of the Oath Keepers paramilitary group facing conspiracy and other charges in connection with the Capitol insurrection. "I called this hearing this afternoon to make clear to everyone that this case will not be tried in the media," U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta said. "If there are further public comments or stories of the kind that we've seen in the last 48 hours, I will not hesitate to consider a gag order."