Transparency News, 3/25/20


March 25, 2020
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state & local news stories
Harrisonburg City Council approved a measure to allow council members to take part in meetings remotely with technology in the case of personal matters, emergencies or medical issues. City Attorney Chris Brown said council members would have to present why they will be absent to the rest of council, and remote participation would require approval from the rest of council. During public comment, several members of the the Shenandoah Mutual Fund, a support group established to help people during the COVID-19 pandemic, spoke requesting things such as a 24/7 homeless shelter, a ceasing of evictions, a fund for laid-off service workers and a rent freeze. Nearly a dozen people called in, with many echoing similar points and sentiments. Council opened a phone line for members of the public to call in to speak and the meeting was streamed on the city’s website, Facebook page and broadcast on television Channel 3 as part of efforts to include the public in the meeting despite social-distancing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Daily News Record

As local officials work to finalize Chesterfield County’s fiscal year 2021 budget in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, they’re trying to balance their obligation to receive citizen input and comply with state open meeting laws against the need to protect public health and contain the spread of COVID-19. The county announced last week that it was restricting access to the Public Meeting Room during the Board of Supervisors’ March 25 meeting so citizens could address the board directly on the budget without running afoul of health officials’ “social distancing” directives. Chesterfield residents were strongly encouraged to submit comments to the board in advance of its monthly business meeting via an online form accessible through the county’s website. In recognition that not all citizens have access to a computer or are comfortable using such technology, the county adopted new protocols for accommodating anyone who opted to speak in person.
Chesterfield Observer

A Richmond department head who left City Hall last week is entitled to a near-six-figure payout. Douglas Dunlap, director of Richmond’s Department of Housing and Community Development, split with Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration last Wednesday. He made $143,222 annually....Dunlap was entitled to the amount only after signing a separation agreement that stipulates, among other provisions, that he will not pursue legal action against the city.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
stories of national interest
In July 1962, the Food and Drug Administration sent an urgent message to its field offices with an assignment it said was “one of the most important we have had in a long time.” Overseas, thousands of babies in Germany, England and other countries were being born with severe defects tied to their mothers’ use of thalidomide, a drug widely taken for insomnia, morning sickness and other ailments. Meanwhile, the federal government sought to figure out what had happened in the United States, and how many babies had been affected. The drug was never approved in the United States, but as many as 20,000 Americans were given thalidomide in the 1950s and 1960s as part of two clinical trials operated by the American drug makers Richardson-Merrell and Smith, Kline & French. Here is the story of the F.D.A.’s investigation, told through a sampling of the more than 1,300 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
The New York Times

During the weekend, two people in [Cape Cod] tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Many more people are under self-quarantine after being in close contact with either of the individuals, according to a letter to residents from town Health Director Meggan Eldredge. "I understand the innate desire to know who and where the positive cases are, however this is private medical information," Eldredge wrote, noting that it would not change the precautions townspeople were already being asked to take. It is a delicate dance between protecting privacy and protecting ourselves. In addressing a measles outbreak in May, the state Department of Public Health was able to release information on exactly where infected patients had traveled so members of the public could determine for themselves whether they had been exposed and needed to seek medical attention and quarantine. It helped to contain the spread of the disease.
Cape Code Times via Governing