Transparency News 3/7/14

Friday, March 7, 2014
State and Local Stories


The Library of Virginia has posted another records-management video to YouTube, this was titled “Destroying Electronic Records.”

A district court judge sided with Madison County on Thursday in a petition filed by former supervisors who wanted access to a letter in the county administrator’s personnel file. The assessment of Ernie Hoch’s performance as Madison’s executive, written by the outgoing board chairman, is exempt from mandatory disclosure under a narrow provision of Virginia’s open records law, Judge Dale Durrer wrote. “The letter speaks to [Hoch’s] job performance and offers justification for a proposed salary increase,” Durrer said, in a seven-page opinion denying the petition from Jerry Butler and Pete Elliott, who lost their seats on the five-member board in November’s general election.
Daily Progress

The York County Board of Supervisors is holding a retreat Saturday, but has not notified the public or published an agenda. The state's open meeting laws require that the "all meetings of public bodies shall be open" and notice posted in a "prominent public location," online and in most cases, in a newspaper. There is a loophole, however. According to state law, "regular meetings, without further public notice, may be adjourned from day to day or from time to time or from place to place, not beyond the time fixed for the next regular meeting, until the business before the governing body is completed." York County Attorney James Barnett, who said Thursday he knew nothing about Saturday's meeting until receiving an email from a reporter, which said the supervisors adjourned Tuesday night's regular meeting to Saturday.
Daily Press

Hopewell City Councilwoman Brenda Pelham is being sued for $2.35 million by a former candidate for sheriff who Pelham, in a November Facebook post, said was “part of the Klan.” Catherine Mitchell, who ran for Hopewell sheriff and lost last year, filed the suit in Colonial Heights Circuit Court last week and claims in court papers that Pelham “maliciously sought to, and did, injure” her.

Attorney General Mark Herring warned Virginia property owners Thursday to be cautious of companies offering to sell them a copy of the deed to their home. Homeowners throughout the state have been receiving official looking letters, often titled as a “Deed Processing Notice,” that offer to sell them a copy of their deed for $83. The letters include language that may result in the homeowner believing he or she must comply by a specific date. “Even though these letters look like official notices, they are actually solicitations and should be treated as such,” Herring said in a statement.
Roanoke Times

The Free Lance–Star Publishing Co.’s assets are scheduled to be auctioned off in May as part of the media company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. Attorneys for the FLS and its secured creditor, Sandton Capital Partners, laid out the timeline for the asset sale during a short hearing Thursday in front of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin R. Huennekens. Almost 20 potential bidders have already signed nondisclosure agreements expressing interest in the company’s assets, FLS attorney Paula Beran told the judge. Thirteen of them are actively looking through company financial data to evaluate a potential bid. One interested party visited the FLS this week.
Free Lance-Star

Loudoun County supervisors were none too pleased to receive a letter yesterday from School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger telling them the School Board will not respond to the supervisors' request for more-detailed information about the Loudoun County Public Schools adopted budget. Hornberger's letter, which supervisors derided during a Wednesday night meeting, adds extra hostility between the two governing bodies three days before they're scheduled to meet to discuss the school system's fiscal 2015 budget. The letter also questions whether the Board of Supervisors has the statutory authority to ask for “information about what programmatic needs and requirements could be fulfilled or not fulfilled within the funding provided to the schools under the county administrator's proposal” – verbiage lifted from a February request from Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) to the School Board.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

National Stories

Emails obtained by the Washington Examiner through a Freedom of Information Act request raise new questions about how much the White House knew about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' fundraising for ObamaCare and whether she solicited donations from entities she regulates. White House officials have said they did not sign off on calls made by Sebelius to solicit donations from private entities for Enroll America, an outside nonprofit with close White House ties that promotes enrollment in the health law's insurance exchanges.  Officials say they were only generally aware Sebelius would be seeking support from outside groups. In late January, HHS's Freedom of Information Act office released 257 pages of emails in response to a June request from the Washington Examiner.
Fox News


Now here is a Virginia legislator behind whom we can rally: Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, who is on a one-man campaign to get the rest of the General Assembly to write legislation in clear, logical language. Who in the world could object to that? Well, his fellow elected officials, apparently. According to an article in The Washington Post, other state senators and delegates tend to bristle at Sen. Petersen's editing suggestions. Considering the amount of indecipherable legalese and the vague, watered-down prose that streams from legislative laptops, we applaud Sen. Petersen's efforts. And to the elected officials who object to his handiwork, we offer this advice: Write clearly and concisely — omit unnecessary words — and no one will have to edit you.
Daily Press

The recent resignation of the state official tasked with investigating the incident that left a lawmaker wounded and his son dead poses serious questions about Virginia's efforts to address the needs of residents grappling with mental illness. G. Douglas Bevelacqua spent more than 25 years as an advocate for people with mental disabilities before announcing his resignation Saturday. Bevelacqua wrote that his findings were subjected to "revisions that, in my opinion, will diminish the report's usefulness as policymakers consider changes to the commonwealth's emergency services response system. If I were responsible for publishing this report, it would have been issued weeks ago and it would have contained conclusions that were removed because they were considered speculative or too emotional." One of those conclusions was that state officials failed to heed a 2012 report that recommended improvements for handling people who qualify for temporary detention but can't be held due to scarce resources, a point that Bevelacqua said "most likely would have produced a different outcome on Nov. 18, 2013."