Transparency News 3/5/19



March 5, 2019


Eventbrite - ACCESS 2019: VCOG's Open Government Conference
April 11 | Hampton University

state & local news stories




"My only desire was to be able to humanely talk to individuals so that they would know their futures before it was made public."

A U.S. District Court judge in Harrisonburg ruled last week that Virginia's FOIA exemptions for meeting does not create an independent attorney-client privilege. The case arose from an employment dispute between Lynda Minke and Page County. The county objected to Minke's request to depose the Page County administrator and three members of the Board of Supervisors about a closed meeting they held -- invoking the personnel exemption -- about Minke. The county argued (1) the discussions were exempt from disclosure, and (2) the discussions are protected by the attorney-client privilege. The judge ruled that there is nothing in FOIA to indicate that the exemptions create privilege, unlike in the Virginia Unemployment Compensation Act, where there is express language about what is and isn't subject to privilege. "The Virginia General Assembly, knowing how to create a 'privilege' of the sort posited by Page County, and having specifically done so in no uncertain terms in other statutes, . . . did not do so in §2.2-3711."
Read the opinion on VCOG's website

Richmond Public Schools officials have released the positions set to be eliminated under the approved budget for next year, jobs that include people who enforce attendance and analyze student test scores. “Now that the budget is released, I’m glad to discuss all of the information,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said after Monday’s School Board meeting. “My only desire was to be able to humanely talk to individuals so that they would know their futures before it was made public. Now that it is all public, I welcome a robust discussion on anything and everything in our budget.” Monday’s release came a week after the board voted 6-3 to approve its spending plan for next year, a plan that is now in the hands of the city . Although the budget was given to the School Board before the vote, it was withheld from the public until Wednesday. That full budget that was released, while more detailed than the 31-page document previously available to the public, didn’t include a full breakdown of the positions set to be cut until now. “I’m incredibly disappointed that it wasn’t made public before,” said 3rd District representative Kenya Gibson.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Alleghany Board of Supervisors requested the resignation of a school board member who is accused of failing to perform his duties and using a slur against special education students. The board voted unanimously to pass the resolution at a specially called meeting Monday evening. The resolution requests that Clifton Forge West District representative Donnie Kern resign from his position on the school board. The board of supervisors appointed him in July. The board’s resolution states Kern abstained from voting and failed to participate in school board meetings. They also cite a report Kern sent in December to the state police, the auditor of public accounts and the state inspector general with false accusations about the school board and its employees. In January, Kern left the school board meeting after complaining that next year’s budget was not detailed enough, comparing it to those of nearby counties. He said the school board wanted to “keep our community in the dark.”
The Roanoke Times


stories of national interest

An anonymous person in South Carolina finally claimed the record-setting prize from October’s $1.54 billion Mega Millions jackpot, opting to collect a one-time lump sum of $877,784,124. The state’s lottery commission announced on Monday that the person had stepped forward, ending questions about why, five months after the winning numbers were announced, no one had claimed the money. It was the largest payout to a single lottery winner in United States history. The winner retained Jason M. Kurland, a New York lawyer who has branded himself the “Lottery Lawyer” after representing several high-profile winners. In October, Mr. Kurland told The New York Times that the biggest challenge is making sure the windfall does not ruin personal relationships.
The New York Times






editorials & columns



". . . most of the board members beat a swift retreat behind a wall of state troopers, who were necessary, it seems, to protect the citizen board from citizens."

Even after more than two years of being steadily bludgeoned into subservience by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Attorney General’s office over the regulations of a pair of contentious natural gas pipeline projects, Friday’s meeting of the Virginia State Water Control Board was a new low point. The meeting, mostly conducted behind closed doors as an anxious public waited for hours, concluded with varying flimsy excuses for why the board was backing away from a public hearing on revoking a state water quality certification for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Actually, not quite. The finale was more revolting than that. As board members fumbled through explanations before an increasingly angry audience, Chairwoman Heather Wood abruptly called for an adjournment. Then, most of the board members beat a swift retreat behind a wall of state troopers, who were necessary, it seems, to protect the citizen board from citizens asking it to do its job and protect their water.
Robert Zullo, Virginia Mercury

Since its enactment in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has served as a significant source of transparency in government, allowing anyone to access official records that would otherwise be unavailable to the public. Legal academics have analyzed the statute in numerous law review articles, most of which seem to embrace FOIA’s underlying goals. Yet the actual use of FOIA and its state-law equivalents in legal academia has been quite limited. By my count, fewer than 60 law review articles in the entire Westlaw database report that the author obtained or tried to obtain records under a freedom-of-information law in carrying out the underlying research. In other words, law professors generally embrace transparency—but have traditionally relied upon others to supply it.
Ryan Scoville, Lawfare

In a shocking effort by the Kentucky Legislature to undermine government transparency and accountability, Rep. Jason Petrie (R-Elkton) has introduced HB 387, which aims to make it harder for Kentuckians to know how their tax dollars are being used by the commonwealth to lure and incentivize businesses to locate there. What’s worse (if not knowing how public dollars are being spent by government isn’t bad enough) is that it has come out of committee retaining its original provisions along with several new measures that would:
Dan Bevarly, NFOIC