Transparency News, 4/15/21


 April 15, 2021


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“We do not yet know if this phone has been wiped, as is policy, but given that it is damaged and wasn’t reused, we think there is a good chance it wasn’t wiped. [The text messages] may exist, they may not exist — we don’t know yet.”
Former Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones’ work cellphone has been discovered, complicating a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler. The lawsuit argues that the city violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and the Public Records Act, which dictate which documents can be requested by the public and how public bodies should retain records, respectively. In previous hearings, counsel on behalf of the city has argued that Jones’ phone was wiped prior to his successor taking over, as was policy. Because Jones’ phone had been wiped, there were no documents responsive to Kessler’s FOIA request. However, during a Wednesday hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court, attorney Elizabeth Southall, who is representing the city, presented new information. According to Southall, she was able to contact Jones and discovered that his phone was damaged when he left. Because the phone was damaged, Southall said it was unlikely it was passed on to Jones’ successor and, sure enough, the phone was located in city storage. “We do not yet know if this phone has been wiped, as is policy, but given that it is damaged and wasn’t reused, we think there is a good chance it wasn’t wiped,” she said. “[The text messages] may exist, they may not exist — we don’t know yet.”
The Daily Progress

Members of the public are to return to Williamsburg-James City County School Board meetings after the board retreated from a recorded comment format that has become increasingly antagonistic during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a move that can’t come soon enough for some School Board members. They believe the virtual format in which members of the public leave recorded comments that are played at meetings has resulted in an increase in incivility. During recorded citizen comments at Tuesday’s meeting, one caller, who backed a return to full-time learning, accused the School Board of allowing classrooms to become overcrowded and causing a teacher shortage. She accused schools Superintendent Olwen Herron of incompetence during the COVID crisis and called for mass resignations of board members and staff. Another caller took issue with the board for not making plans for senior proms.
The Virginia Gazette

The Richmond School Board voted this week to take back its authority to build new schools, a process that since 2018 had been led by a team of city and school officials. Late in the night on Monday, the board voted 5-4 in favor of a resolution to give the Richmond School Board the authority to oversee new school construction. The resolution was introduced by 3rd District board member Kenya Gibson, who has long advocated for the school division to be in charge of new school construction. Superintendent Jason Kamras and other board members said they felt a lack of transparency since the resolution was not uploaded to Board Docs, the site the Richmond School Board uses to notify the public of its agenda items. Megan Rhyne, an open government advocate, said it’s long been the stance of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government that agenda items not be added past a certain point so the public would have advanced notice.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Prince William County supervisors agree their board meetings run long, but they aren’t on the same page about how to fix the issue. During Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, introduced a resolution to limit the board’s ability to vote on certain topics late into the night. Discussion then turned into a referendum on the tenure of Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At-Large. The measure came after four lengthy meetings in 2021 that have included late-night and early-morning discussions on major topics.  Candland’s resolution would have required votes on tax rates, the budget and land-use matters to occur between 7:30 p.m. and midnight, unless the board waived the rules during a meeting. Public comment could still continue, but the board would have to adjourn the meeting until another day to take a vote during the set times.  Candland said the measure would increase transparency by allowing more people to see votes, but the conversation quickly devolved into the partisan spats that have frequently embroiled the board since Democrats took control at the start of 2020.