Transparency News, 3/26/20

March 26, 2020
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state & local news stories
"What I’ve seen is most localities trying to strike the right balance between safety and transparency. Because this is such a fluid situation, both governments and the public are going to have to continually recalibrate what their abilities and expectations and aspirations are."
VCOG is compiling a list of how local governments and school districts are responding to the emergency in terms of their public meetings. Of course, the list cannot possibly be exhaustive, but you should be able to get a good idea of the options being taken.
VCOG's Google Drive

For the first time ever, Culpeper Town Council met outside in their cars in the rain Wednesday morning for a special meeting by teleconference during the COVID-19 crisis. Councilman Keither Brown made [a] motion for the utility late fee relief from his home during Wednesday’s teleconference. Due to a health condition, the councilman was unable to attend the unusual meeting held in the parking lot behind the Economic Development Center. The eight other town council members attended in their vehicles, positioned in a circle of sorts in the parking lot. Various members of the police department stood in the rain providing security.
Culpeper Star-Exponent

Charlottesville's letters to the governor were sent shortly before a special meeting Wednesday morning where the council adopted an ordinance allowing it to conduct electronic meetings in narrow circumstances, particularly on the city’s budget. The ordinance allows the council to hold electronic meetings to conduct business to discuss the state of emergency around the coronavirus pandemic or items related to the continuity of government, such as the city’s budget. The ordinance also allows electronic public hearings for such continuity-related items. The public can participate in the hearings electronically or submit comments before, during or up to five days after the hearings. “What I’ve seen is most localities trying to strike the right balance between safety and transparency, and I certainly think Charlottesville is on the better side of that equation right now,” said VCOG executive director Megan Rhyne. “Because this is such a fluid and, as the governor keeps saying, a dynamic situation, both governments and the public are going to have to continually recalibrate what their abilities and expectations and aspirations are.”
The Daily Progress

Newport News said city facilities will be closed “until further notice” to heed guidance from the state government and “flatten the curve” of coronavirus cases. The city, along with other Peninsula localities, announced the closure of virtually all public buildings from March 16-29 after health officials identified several coronavirus cases on the Peninsula. Those closures in Newport News will be extended to an unknown date.
Daily Press

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors faced technological challenges Tuesday as members held their first meeting by telephone amid the coronavirus pandemic. Most members participated in the regular board meeting from their homes via a telephone conference call. The county did not allow the public to attend the meeting in person but directed those interested to view and listen to the broadcast online. A special county email inbox was set up to accept public comments ahead of the meeting. Four messages were received by 4 p.m. Tuesday. County Administrator Evan Vass had started to read comments when Supervisor Karl Roulston asked members if they had received an email from Karen Kwiatkowski. Supervisor Bradley Pollack voiced concern that the audio might not be audible and then he made a motion to take all comments and post them online. Vass told members the audience might not be able to hear them as clearly. Taylor said viewers’ experience could depend on what system they use to watch and listen to the meeting. Pollack eventually withdrew his motion and Vass continued with reading the comments. Edinburg resident Kathleen Curtis voiced in her comments criticism of the board’s choice to hold its meeting in the chosen fashion: "Please ensure that the BOS will only counsel together on the most urgent matters and elect to lay the rest aside until a more appropriate time when the meetings can be truly public and freely attended.”
The Northern Virginia Daily

With COVID-19 concerns regarding social distancing and less- than-10 gathering limits imposed by Gov. Northam, Pittsylvania County will livestream, via Facebook Live, its Thursday, March 26, public hearing on the FY2021 budget. The budget public hearing will begin at 7p.m. at the Pittsylvania County Community Center located at 115 South Main St. in Chatham. Citizens wishing to watch the livestream of the meeting should visit the county’s Facebook page at 7p.m., Thoseunable to view the livestream can visit the county’s Facebook page any timeafter the meeting to view the recording. For those unable to livestream or not comfortable with attending the meeting, other accommodations have also been made by the county to ensure every citizen has a voice in the budget process

With the Fluvanna County's courthouse closed, the supervisors' 3/18 meeting was moved to a small room in the County Administration Building. Only a handful of chairs–widely spaced to maintain some social distance — were set up for staff and members of the public. Of the five board members, only Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) and Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) were physically present for the meeting. Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) and Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra) both suffer from lung conditions; Supervisors Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) was feeling unwell and stayed home “out of an abundance of caution.” As it may be necessary for supervisors to self-isolate during the period of emergency, they also passed a resolution allowing them to join by teleconference “due to disability, medical condition, personal matter, or declared state of emergency.”
Fluvanna Review

Fairfax County, Virginia, will close all government buildings to the public Friday to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. At 5 p.m. Friday, the county will restrict public access to its government buildings, according to a statement. The county government will remain open, with most services available online. 

As expected, Fauquier County’s revised fiscal 2021 budget proposal includes no tax increase because of the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The supervisors will conduct a “virtual” work session on Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Warrenton Community Center and adopt the budget, tax rates and fiscal 2021-25 capital improvements plan. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, the supervisors conducted a “virtual” budget public hearing on March 19 to comply with “President Trump’s urging that citizens of the United States avoid gatherings of more than 10 people,” County Administrator Paul McCulla said. That effectively barred citizens from attending the annual budget public hearing — a first in Fauquier history. The 10 present during the virtual hearing included four supervisors, Mr. McCulla, [budget director] Erin Kozanecki, three technicians and a Fauquier Now journalist providing “pool” photo coverage for The Fauquier Times as well. But citizens could livestream the hearing and email comments that would be read during the hearing.

The first Rockbridge area governmental meeting to be held under state-directed social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 outbreak was held Monday by the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors. The meeting was livestreamed and only 10 people besides the supervisors and county staff were allowed in the meeting room at a time. Also, everyone, including the supervisors, distanced themselves by at least 6 feet from each other. The supervisors adopted a resolution ratifying a declaration of a local emergency that was made earlier following the governor’s declaration of a state emergency on March 12. County Attorney Vickie Huffman provided the supervisors with a draft of a document that addresses possible modifications to how public hearings may be held as the emergency continues.
The News-Gazette

The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors affirmed the state of emergency declaration of March 14 during its meeting Wednesday in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The meeting was broadcasted electronically, marking a first for the board and one of an emergency circumstance. The board also took action to adopt an emergency ordinance on the continuity of government. The ordinance states that the COVID-19 pandemic makes it unsafe for groups of people to assemble in one location, including meetings of public bodies such as the Board of Supervisors, School Board, and Planning Commission. If a public entity determines assembling a quorum in one location is unsafe, any meeting or activity can be held electronically. A public notice will be provided three days in advance before an electronic meeting is held. All electronic meetings will be open to electronic participation by the public and closed to in-person participation. The ordinance was adopted by the board, 5-0.
Daily News Record