Transparency News, 4/28/21

 April 28, 2021

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state & local news stories

The law firm hired for an investigation into how Virginia’s watchdog agency reviewed a controversial parole decision last year won’t be allowed to speak to the media without permission from Attorney General Mark Herring’s office and would have to turn over its “work product” to state lawyers upon request, according to a hiring letter released by Herring’s office. However, the firm’s final report, which will examine how the Office of the Inspector General delved into complaints about the Virginia Parole Board’s decision to grant parole to Vincent Martin and how the IG’s office released its findings, won’t be treated as a record belonging to the attorney general. Asked Tuesday whether the attorney general’s office plans to review or redact the report prior to its release, Herring spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer said the report will consist of the firm’s “independent findings.” She said the office only expects to be involved with handling billing for the outside investigator’s work. Gomer said the confidentiality clause barring outside investigators from speaking to the media is standard whenever the office appoints outside counsel.
Virginia Mercury
stories from around the country
A bill aimed at lifting the shroud of secrecy covering police surveillance tools and their role in investigations of Maine citizens advanced Monday after members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee overwhelmingly recommended passage. Rep. Charlotte Warren, D- Hallowell, introduced the measure about a year ago after the Maine Sunday Telegram reported on Feb. 9, 2020, that state police are relying on a provision in Maine law to withhold information about whether they are using technologies capable of mass surveillance of citizens.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition joined 30 other organizations in a letter supporting the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, urging the House of Representatives to pass the legislation. The act would create a central repository of agency reports submitted to Congress and track whether agencies submit required reports.
NOTE: VCOG's Megan Rhyne serves as vice president of the NFOIC board of directors

editorials & opinion

The parole board is accused of a host of errors in its decisions last year to grant parole to several individuals convicted of violent felonies. A report by the Office of the State Inspector General found the board did not follow state law in notifying victims’ families or prosecutors, and did not keep accurate minutes of its meetings, among other missteps. That controversy, already simmering, reached a boil when the OSIG released a report about the matter that was so heavily redacted that it was all but unreadable. Instead of transparency and insight into what happened, the public received pages of blacked-out text.Predictably, that only raised more questions and gave voice to calls by Republican lawmakers that the Northam administration was covering for the parole board. Those calls grew louder with release of an earlier draft of the report, this time unredacted, which leveled new accusations against members of the board.
The Virginian-Pilot