Transparency News 4/11/19

April 11, 2019

state & local news stories
"I don’t think there’s anything written (suggesting) that we should take tax dollars to broadcast it beyond our city’s boundaries.”
Look for tweets and Facebook posts from our annual conference today using the hashtag #Access19  • •
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Two weeks after a meeting where scores of people stood to criticize city leaders over the police chief’s ouster, a divided Portsmouth City Council voted to stop broadcasting such public comments — which are one of the only chances for residents to talk to their elected officials. Councilman Bill Moody — who proposed the change Tuesday — touted it as an effort to improve the city's reputation, which has taken a beating over claims that former Police Chief Tonya Chapman was forced out for fighting systemic racism. The decision to stop recording public comment, which wasn’t announced in advance, happened at a lightly attended council work session. “Unfortunately, unless someone can tell me otherwise, it seems that we’re attempting to suppress people’s free speech,” Council member Shannon Glover said. “They have every right to come before us — their elected leaders — to say what they need to say.” “Bill, are you restricting speech?” Mayor John Rowe said in response. “No. No. Not at all. People will still be able to exercise their free speech,” Moody said. “I don’t think there’s anything written (suggesting) that we should take tax dollars to broadcast it beyond our city’s boundaries on, many times, things that aren’t factual and things that paint our city in a bad manner.”
The Virginian-Pilot

The Peninsula Airport Commission’s insurance firm has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a defamation lawsuit by the past head of the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. The agreement with former executive director Ken Spirito was arrived at during a court-ordered settlement conference on Tuesday, airport executive director Mike Giardino said. Giardino said the six-member Peninsula Airport Commission will meet Thursday morning to vote on the agreement. In his lawsuit, Spirito had contended that airport employees and a commission member had defamed his character over his shredding of documents at the airport in early 2017. At the time of the shredding, the state’s Department of Transportation was conducting an investigation into the airport. Even though the money for the settlement is coming from insurance, Giardino said attorneys agreed that it made sense — for the sake of public transparency — that commissioners vote on the deal.
Daily Press

California congressman Devin Nunes has filed a $150 million defamation lawsuit in Albemarle County Circuit Court against The McClatchy Group, despite claims from the company that it does not operate in Virginia. The suit cites a May 2018 article from The Fresno Bee. Though Nunes, The Fresno Bee and McClatchy are all based in California and McClatchy does not operate any papers in Virginia, Charlottesville-based attorney Steven Biss argues the company distributes to the state physically, digitally and via broadcast. “This case involves McClatchy’s delivery to and publication of defamatory statements in Albemarle County and throughout Virginia, and the publication of false and defamatory statements by McClatchy and its agents and co-conspirators who were, at all relevant times, physically present in Virginia,” Biss wrote. Why Albemarle County was chosen for the suit is not made clear in the complaint and Biss did not return multiple requests for comment or clarification.
The Daily Progress

There were not enough seats in the Board of Supervisors’ board room to accommodate the 200-plus citizens who showed up for the county’s public hearing on the proposed budget Wednesday night. In a meeting that lasted 3 1/2 hours, over 50 speakers shared a distaste for a potential tax increase, called for resignations, berated what they called the supervisors’ lack of oversight of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority and advocated for higher salaries for teachers. Last year, 10 citizens spoke during the budget public hearing. 
The Northern Virginia Daily

At the Appomattox Town Council meeting March 26, Councilwoman Claudia Puckette shared that one of the Appomattox County Board of Supervisors members called Puckette, asking that she share the idea of having the town meet with the county. The idea shared with Puckette was for two of the council members (her and Steven Conner) to meet with two of the supervisors (Watkins Abbitt and Samuel Carter). The meeting or meetings would entail the discussion of issues of the past and “formulating a plan of working together.” Discussions from this group would then be brought back to the council and board, respectively.
Times Virginian
stories of national interest
Ambitious doesn't begin to describe Carla Hayden's plan to make the Library of Congress' collection available to the world. Audacious may be closer to it. Hayden, the 14th person to steward the Library, wants to "throw open the treasure chest" by digitizing its vast collection and making it accessible online. The five-year plan's understated name -- Enriching the Library Experience -- doesn't capture its scope. Hayden wants people to engage with everything from the letters of Abraham Lincoln to early-edition Batman comics.
editorials & columns
"[VCOG is] also available to citizens who want to engage more effectively in the public square."
THE LAWS REQUIRING that government conduct its business in full view of the public are intrusive, or least they are meant to be. It’s the same for laws saying that citizens should have access to documents produced by public officials. Thankfully, there are still some influential voices who continue to advocate for transparency in the public square. Chief among these is the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. The group serves to provide a firm voice in favor of transparency, working on behalf of policies that open the door wider for citizens and putting a spotlight on instances where government falls short of legal requirement and public expectation. While VCOG and its executive director, Megan Rhyne, serve as an invaluable resource for officials and members of the media in working through questions of access and protocol, they are also available to citizens who want to engage more effectively in the public square.
The Virginian-Pilot

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