Transparency News, 5/11/2022


May 11, 2022


state & local news stories

"As long as those books are in our ... libraries, this gavel and this chairman will support the citizens hearing that information."

Peter Lacy was supposed to become the next commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, but Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration rescinded the offer on Tuesday after an Indiana newspaper reported the former head of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles has been accused of inappropriate behavior on the job. The Indianapolis Star reported on Tuesday that Lacy had resigned as head of the Indiana agency on April 27, a month before his previously announced departure date and “one day after he appeared intoxicated during an executive meeting, slurring his words, acting confused and making an off-color statement.” The Indianapolis Star reported that Lacy, the scion of a prominent family influential in Indiana Republican politics, has a history of inappropriate behavior in the state workplace, including crude sexual references and screaming fits of anger. But the newspaper also said Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb allowed Lacy to resign rather than face action by the state that could have allowed any disciplinary issues or complaints in his personnel file to become public.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia Employment Commission instructed employees to handle records that included people’s sensitive and personal information while at home, according to a former employee and a spokesperson for the agency. The same employee says staff was then expected to return the documents to the office for further evaluation. This admission from the beleaguered agency follows new accusations from Celena Jones, a former employee, instructed to work overtime at home and process documents that included people’s social security numbers, birthdays, home addresses, workplaces, salaries, online passwords and other personal information. Jones worked for the Virginia Employment Commission from September through December 2021 and recently told 8News that she and her colleagues working on “first-level appeals“ were instructed to take home personal information related to claimants and write social security numbers on the top of each page; a practice used while the agency transitioned to a new online system.

Roanoke City Council erupted Monday in fisticuffs over a new $2,500 stipend to cover the cost of the mayor’s car trips on city business. Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds proposed striking the perk from the city’s pay plan, saying the full Council should have discussed the issue in open session beforehand. She also took issue with mileage reimbursements for various city officials that ranged from $2,000 to $4,000 per year. Moon Reynolds, a former city clerk, said officials could use the city's existing mileage reimbursement policy rather than get a flat allowance. Her motion to remove the mayor’s stipend failed because no other council member seconded her proposal. “I don’t know why you choose to do that,” Mayor Sherman Lea said of the proposal as Moon Reynolds briefly left the Council chamber. “I don’t why people are posturing, posturing for the cameras and for political expediency, that’s all that is.”
Roanoke Rambler

The Spotsylvania School Board is primed to once again wade into the issue of library book content, six months after two board members said they would like to see “sexually explicit” material removed from shelves and even burned. A parent has initiated official challenges of eight books that she says are in school division libraries, and School Board Chair Kirk Twigg said during Monday’s School Board meeting that he will only ask citizens to stop reading explicit passages aloud during public comments once “we clear out our libraries.” Since January, Jennifer Peterson, the parent who initiated the book challenges, has been attending board meetings and reading aloud passages from books that she says are inappropriate for school libraries and harmful to children. In recent months, several parents and school board members have asked the board to amend its public comments policy to prevent the reading aloud of explicit content, citing Federal Communications Commission’s prohibition of “obscene, indecent or profane” broadcasts and the fact that those in attendance at meetings do not have the choice of whether or not to listen to the content, but students can choose whether or not to check out a book with such content. Twigg responded by saying that “as long as those books are in our ... libraries, this gavel and this chairman will support the citizens hearing that information.”
The Free Lance-Star

The Front Royal Town Council on Monday appointed Front Royal native Zachary Jackson to fill its vacant seat. The appointment will last through November, when a special election will determine who fills the seat for the remainder of Lloyd’s term that runs through December 2024. Jackson said he will run in the upcoming general election for one of the four-year council terms up for grabs instead of being a candidate in the special election. The appointment was made after the council went into a closed session for almost an hour to discuss it. Vice Mayor Lori Cockrell and Councilwoman Amber Morris noted that the town received many applications for the council seat.
The Northern Virginia Daily

stories of national interest

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita blasted the Biden administration for failing on transparency after it moved to dismiss a FOIA lawsuit probing into documents and correspondence relating to Attorney General Merrick Garland's response to the infamous National School Boards Association (NSBA) letter. In response to Garland's "disturbing admissions" under oath, the plaintiff coalition of states served the Biden administration with FOIA requests that sought "public records relating to the communications and White House meetings outlined by Attorney General Garland in his congressional testimony," the FOIA lawsuit, launched in March, said. The original FOIA requested all documents and communications between federal officials and the NSBA in connection to the original letter. 
Fox News

editorials & columns

"The reasons for denying citizens a window into the high court are flimsy and familiar."

The leak of a draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court may not be without precedent, but it is altogether rare. The court takes pains to shield its internal discussions from public view, making this leak a breach of institutional protocol and, already, the subject of investigation. The Supreme Court occupies a singular space in the federal landscape. Using the power of judicial review, it determines the constitutionality of laws and therefore wields considerable influence over legislative and executive authority and the rights of the public under federal authority. That it largely conducts its operations removed from public view, even as its decisions affect hundreds of millions of Americans, seems incongruent with such an important role in our nation. And the court has made few concessions to transparency in its storied history. In 2000, as the justices heard arguments in the landmark Bush v Gore case regarding that closely contested presidential election, the court released audio tapes shortly after those arguments concluded. Ten years later, the court pivoted again and began posting audio of oral arguments at the end of the week they occurred.  The reasons for denying citizens a window into the high court are flimsy and familiar. Justices have argued that cameras in the courtroom will change how lawyers and even the justices behave, leading to grandstanding and affecting the solemnity of the proceedings. The same arguments have been made against broadcasting city council or school board meetings, but the benefit to the public is demonstrable.
The Virginian-Pilot