Transparency News, 5/11/20


May 11, 2020


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state & local news stories
"The county’s initial response to the FOIA request was to demand payment of $8,750 to produce the information, citing a need for a budget analyst to spend 250 hours to compile it."
New data released Friday by the Virginia Department of Health provides a more granular look at how COVID-19 is spreading across Virginia. VPAP has calculated the number of cases per 10,000 residents in each of the state's nearly 900 postal codes. Plotted on a map, the location of hot spots becomes apparent.
Virginia Public Access Project

The redactions start on the first page, beginning with the name of the McKinsey partner who signed the contract with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. On April 21, The Virginia Mercury submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the department, asking for a copy of its $573,680 contract with McKinsey, a global consulting firm that’s positioned itself as a resource for states, the federal government and individual health systems in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mercury also requested any reports or recommendations that McKinsey had issued through the contract. All of those reports — roughly 120 pages — were withheld. But the contract was released, replete with blacked-out passages that make its full scope difficult to understand.
Virginia Mercury

Community members soon could get the chance to again publicly voice their thoughts on any topic to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors. When the board decided to meet virtually amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it approved removing the general public comment agenda item, which usually allows time for people to speak about topics that are not already on the agenda for a public hearing. On Monday, the board is scheduled to meet virtually at 4 p.m. for a budget work session, where it’s also scheduled to discuss possibly putting “From the Public: Matters Not Listed for Public Hearing on the Agenda” back on its upcoming agendas. Albemarle has added ways to provide public comment on agenda items, including an eComment feature on its website. This past week, a proposed rezoning for a child care center garnered 47 online comments, while proposals to waive rents for some of the county’s commercial tenants received 28 online comments. County spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said they’ve also seen a large increase in the number of people watching the board’s meetings online.
The Daily Progress

Arlington County is working to publicly release data on payments to vendors, according to an email exchange between county officials and a local resident. The new initiative came to light after a local resident filed a Freedom of Information Act Request to obtain a list of county expenditures, sorted by vendor, for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Some other localities publicly list such information, in the interest of transparency and showing which companies were being paid by the local government. The county’s initial response to the FOIA request was to demand payment of $8,750 to produce the information, citing a need for a budget analyst to spend 250 hours to compile it. The resident, Patrick Lockhart, then appealed to the County Board and the County Manager to intervene. In response, the County Manager’s office agreed to waive the fee, noting that vendor payment information is set to be released through the county’s Arlington Wallet portal.

Like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectants, alcohol appears to be one of the essential items many in the Mountain Empire have felt a need to stock up on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data obtained from the Virginia ABC by the Bristol Herald Courier through a public records request shows that sales at state liquor stores in Southwest Virginia surged in mid-March, when the pandemic began affecting the region.
Bristol Herald Courier

Hackers hijacked and took over control of two subdomains on the official website of the Virginia state government. For some reason, they then turned the two sites into some sort of eBook scam. The two subdomains, and crc.virginia.govhad the same content, a list of eBook titles and genres, which redirect to a messy page filled with links to download PDFs. After we contacted the state of Virginia for this article, it took down the pages entirely.


stories of national interest
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday considers three blockbuster cases concerning efforts by the Democratic-led House of Representatives and a grand jury working with a prosecutor in New York City to obtain copies of President Donald Trump’s financial records. Two of the three cases concern attempts by House committees to enforce subpoenas seeking Trump’s financial records from three businesses: Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars LLP and two banks, Deutsche Bank(DBKGn.DE) and Capital One(COF.N). The Supreme Court has consolidated these two cases and will hear them together in a scheduled one-hour argument. The other case concerns another subpoena issued to Mazars for similar information, including tax returns, but this one was issued as part of a grand jury investigation into Trump being carried out in New York City. The justices will hear a second one-hour oral argument in this case. Rulings are due by the end of June.