Transparency News, 3/4/21


 March 4, 2021
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state & local news stories

I was a guest on Hearsay with Cathy Lewis yesterday to talk about HB 2004 on criminal investigative files. Additional guests -- Gary Harki, Sen. Jen Kiggans, Tammy Guido McGee and Jeff Schapiro -- talk about other aspects of the legislative session.

The day after Gov. Ralph Northam’s office released a statement from Virginia’s top watchdog, declaring Office of the State Inspector General never released a 13-page draft describing wrongdoing by the Virginia Parole Board last year, a former Virginia governor offered his thoughts. "The parole board is not an autonomous agency: it serves and they all serve at the pleasure of the governor,” former Governor Doug Wilder said Tuesday, weighing in on the embattled parole board. "No one has taken clear control of the situation that looks like it's spiraling out of hand,” CBS 6 Political Analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth said. “You are seeing Republicans using it as political hay both in the Assembly and, I believe, in the upcoming election. Certainly, the Democratic candidates running for office will have to address it. It's going to be a major issue obviously, in the Attorney General's race." In a statement to questions from CBS 6, the Attorney General's Office said, "This is an issue between the OSIG and Parole Board." Holsworth and Wilder both disagree with that statement.

Arlington’s top prosecutor has launched a Conviction Review Unit to investigate “claims of innocence and wrongful convictions.” The unit will look into claims of wrongful convictions, including those who were convicted at trial of murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and other felonies. Just last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that actually expands the pool of defendants who are eligible to challenge convictions. Established within the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office for Arlington County and Falls Church, the unit will also be responsible for litigating motions for post-conviction DNA testing and responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Portsmouth City Council decided Tuesday night that its top choice for city manager is business owner Sunshine Swinson, according to a source familiar with the council’s discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss what happened in a private meeting. Swinson has advanced degrees in public administration and has worked as the administrative division head for the Portsmouth Fire Department and as Hampton’s senior budget analyst, according to her LinkedIn profile. The city is conducting a background check of Swinson, and ultimately, the council will need to finalize a hire by voting in an open meeting. Once news outlets reported the council was vetting Swinson, which WAVY appeared to be first to report, details of her life started coming to light. Swinson is facing two charges of welfare fraud in Suffolk, according to online court records. Little information about the charge is publicly available other than the alleged offense occurred Jan. 13, 2017, and Swinson was not arrested until Nov. 28, 2020. She has an arraignment scheduled for April 28. The Pilot was not able to reach Swinson, her attorney or Suffolk prosecutors Wednesday.
The Virginian-Pilot

Just four months after being elected to a second term Paul Crawford has resigned as Mayor of Richlands. He issued a brief statement in late afternoon that announced his intentions but did not elaborate on his reasons. “After much thought, I am resigning as mayor of Richlands effective immediately. I have performed to the best of my ability while in this job but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. I know there are folks that are glad I’m gone and maybe a few that wish I wasn’t. I am just not willing to sacrifice my time and efforts to a cause that so many do not seem to appreciate."
The News and Press
editorials & columns
House members received $211 per day, for a total of over $800,000 in per diem travel stipends anyway. They were paid to stay home, apparently, as there is no other rational explanation for this outrageous expenditure of taxpayer funds. Elizabeth Mancano, a spokeswoman for the clerk of the House, said that the average delegate received $8,651 in per diem payments for the 30-day regular session and the 17-day special session that directly followed it this year. Kunal Atit, a spokesman for Filler–-Corn, told the Virginian–Pilot that “these session expense payments are in accordance with decades-long precedent and established while the Republican majorities were in control,” adding that they were “subject to taxes as has long been the case for members residing within 50 miles of the Capitol.” But what Atit didn’t say was that this was the first time in the General Assembly’s storied 402-year history that delegates did not gather in person to do the people’s business, so they have never been given per diem travel stipends for staying at home before.
The Free Lance-Star

C-SPAN and its state-level equivalents have been around for decades, quietly transmitting the minutia of government. But with statehouses still in lockdown, public affairs television is more significant than ever.
Paul W. Taylor, Governing