Transparency News, 5/12/2022


May 12, 2022

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state & local news stories


"We’ve started to allow the reporter to set our agenda. We’re doing the people’s business, but the reporter is telling us what to be outraged about.”

After months of scrutiny of the out-of-state deals financed by Hampton Roads Ventures, Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander said the city will draft a resolution requiring the housing authority’s subsidiary to focus on Norfolk.  The comments by Alexander came after a meeting with representatives of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority and Hampton Roads Ventures during a City Council work session on Tuesday.   A series of stories by The Virginia Mercury detailed how Hampton Roads Ventures has won $360 million of New Markets Tax Credits, but invested only a fraction of that in Norfolk, none since 2008. Hampton Roads Ventures has refused public records requests saying the Virginia Freedom of Information Act does not apply because it receives no public funding, although NRHA has released audits of the corporation.  Asked if HRV should be subject to public records requests, Alexander said, “No question. Everything should be FOIAable.” Other council members during the session also called for HRV to be more transparent.  In an email response to a question about whether HRV would voluntarily submit to the public records act, Carnes said HRV would continue to cooperate with the city by providing information, but was not subject to the act. Both Alphonso Albert, the chair of the board of managers of HRV and an NRHA commissioner, and Ronald Jackson, NRHA’s executive director, disparaged the Mercury’s reporting repeatedly in their remarks. “We’ve started to allow the reporter to set our agenda,” Albert said. “We’re doing the people’s business, but the reporter is telling us what to be outraged about.” Council member Tommy Smigiel, the first to speak after the presentation, suggested that attacking the media was not a productive strategy. 
Virginia Mercury

Beginning in June, the Stafford School Board will reduce its meeting schedule from twice a month to once a month throughout the year. In a 5–2 vote, the board approved a new policy governing meetings and an amended meeting schedule for the remainder of 2022 on Tuesday evening. Each regular meeting will be preceded by a work session at which staff will present information items for the board to discuss. The regular meeting will begin with a closed session if required, followed by approval of the consent agenda—which the board can use to approve routine and "non-controversial" items in bulk—and then awards and recognitions, public comments and action items.  Board members Sarah Chase and Maureen Siegmund were not in support of the new meeting policy.  Chase said she is concerned about limiting the community's ability to speak to the board during public comments and to hear information items before they are up for action.  "I have concern about information items presented during a work session rather than the meeting because work sessions are not televised and we don't have as much of the public attending," Chase said.  Alyssa Halstead said she supports holding one meeting a month because it will give her more time to meet with constituents in a less formal setting. 
The Free Lance-Star

Following briefings on the investigation into the in-custody deaths of two inmates at the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, one member of the jail board believes that changes should be made with top leadership. Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter made a motion after a closed session of the Authority Board's meeting last month to remove jail Superintendent Russell Gilkison from his position. No one seconded the motion and no vote was taken at the April 28 meeting. The closed session at the recent meeting was to discuss an internal, administrative investigation into the in-custody deaths of Jonte Smith, 21, who fatally overdosed in December, and Kacey Dawn Kerns, 28, who died as a result of a self-inflicted wound in March. Jail Deputy Superintendent Steven Weaver said by phone interview Tuesday the internal investigation into Smith's death was finished and the internal investigation into the death of Kerns was nearly complete. But discussions with the jail's legal counsel were ongoing as to what could be released to the public, since the investigation involved personnel matters, Weaver said. with a decision on it potentially being made next week,
The Northern Virginia Daily


editorials & columns

"It’s a violation of the uncodified guardrails, generally accepted by democratically minded people, that school board leaders will be transparent in their activities."

KIRK TWIGG is not an easy man to reach. The chair of the Spotsylvania County School Board has developed a reputation for failing to respond to constituents, refusing to talk with the media, and ignoring requests from fellow board members for basic information. That’s ironic, given that in October 2019, when running for reelection, Twigg had this to say to The Free Lance–Star: “I believe the voter, taxpayer, parent and student deserve to know what is going on ... and in a timely fashion. … I will ... encourage more communication between the superintendent, School Board and parents.” What has changed? Power. Twigg’s failure to state his plans suggests that he either doesn’t want to divulge what he intends to do, or he is playing a game he simply hasn’t figured out yet. Either way, it’s a violation of the uncodified guardrails, generally accepted by democratically minded people, that school board leaders will be transparent in their activities.
The Free Lance-Star

There are certainly politicians we’d be better off without. By and large, though, I am generally impressed that the politicians – at least the ones I know best in the General Assembly – are far more civil with one another than many of the constituents they represent are with each other. I wish more people could see that side of politics. 
Dwayne Yancey, Cardinal News