Transparency News, 4/22/21


 April 22, 2021
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state & local news stories
A freedom of information lawsuit filed against JAUNT is heading toward a settlement, according to court documents. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of local radio host Rob Schilling, who posted an article on his website in December claiming an anonymous internal source told him that the public transportation group was under investigation for “spending irregularities.” Schilling’s request for documents under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act were denied by JAUNT, which claimed the organization was not subject to FOIA [because it was not supported "wholly or principally" by public funds]. Judge Matt Quatrara validated Schilling’s argument in February, allowing the lawsuit to continue and writing that federal funds count as public funds. A hearing had been set for Wednesday but, according to a letter sent to Quatrara Wednesday by Schilling’s attorney, Matt Hardin, the parties asked for it to be continued in light of a recent settlement. Because the settlement has not been formally finalized, details were not available Wednesday.
The Daily Progress
stories from around the country
A surprise to nobody, public commenters at Monday’s Des Moines City Council could not say much in 25 seconds.  The first speaker of the night managed to thank the council and begin to introduce himself before being muted. Another came more prepared with a short rap about his disdain for the Des Moines Police Department and city leadership. Another person’s comments seemed to be pre-recorded and were gradually sped up until reaching a high-pitched squeak.  The Des Moines City Council adopted a resolution last summer limiting public reports to a collective 30 minutes, split among however many people sign up and are approved to speak. Since then, the public reports agenda is generally between 20 and 40 people. Monday’s agenda listed 71 names, of whom about 60 actually made reports. Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said recently that, while the council has no legal obligation to grant any public speaking time, the 25-second limit “makes a mockery” of the intent of public comment. 
Des Moines Register

NOTE: Read Transparency Virginia's report on 2021 legislative transparency for discussion of public comment limits during committee meetings.

editorials & opinion

It may not be Teapot Dome or Iran-Contra, but it seems some Democrats would have you believe the nearly year-long Parole Board scandal is nothing more than those ol’ pouncing Republicans seizing on minor procedural mistakes to gin up election-year attacks — even after audio emerged of the browbeating members of Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration gave the inspector general and his underlings. To be sure, much of the heat coming from GOP lawmakers likely rests in their conviction that some violent felons deserve to die behind bars as well as the fact that, for a party desperate to claw back some control in a state that has slipped out of their grasp, “soft on crime” offensives aimed at Democrats are a return to bread-and-butter basics. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of there there, especially for people concerned about governmental transparency, the ability of watchdog agencies to do their job and whistleblower protections, all things Democrats recently professed to care very much about, at least when it came to Donald Trump’s White House.
Robert Zullo, Virginia Mercury