Transparency News, 5/14/21


 May 14, 2021
follow us on TwitterFacebook & Instagram

state & local news stories
Ex-Windsor Police Officer Joe Gutierrez is alleged to have erased all text messages and emails from his town-issued cell phoneprior to returning it to Windsor officials. The Smithfield Times had requested under the Freedom of Information Act on April 15 to be provided with copies of all correspondence, to include emails and text messages, sent by Gutierrez from July in 2020 to date. The town acknowledged the request April 22 and requested additional time to respond, then asked for an additional 10-day extension April 28 given the number of FOIA requests from other media outlets concerning the traffic stop and the volume of communiques. Windsor Town Manager William Saunders emailed those records to the paper May 12, adding “FYI – Officer Gutierrez blanked out his phone before returning it, so those texts were lost.”“It is absolutely not standard practice for employees to wipe their phones, as it potentially incurs the destruction of documents sooner than the Library of Virginia retention standards dictate,” Saunders said. Per state law, public records must be retained for a defined period of time based on what particular function of government they document. A set of records that document a particular governmental function is what Library of Virginia officials refer to as a record series. Text messages and emails don’t fall into a particular record series since they’re simply delivery methods that can be used to transmit any number of records, including video, audio, still photos and text.
The Smithfield Times

Reversion will become a reality for Martinsville and much sooner than had been expected. Henry County Attorney George Lyle said late Thursday that attorneys for both Henry County and Martinsville informed the commission earlier in the day that “mediation produced general agreement on a number of issues and the two localities would like time to memorialize those agreements in a written document that could then be considered by the Commission.” Lyle said the details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, but they expect “public consideration of some of the issues could occur by the end of the month.” There were no other details provided at the commission’s regular meeting Thursday morning, but public meetings on the matter set for June now have been pushed to July.
Martinsville Bulletin

A Richmond-based accounting firm announced its findings to the King William Board of Supervisors and School Board at Tuesday night’s joint meeting after completing a five-month financial inquiry report on monetary transactions between the treasurer’s office and school division. Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP representative Brian Burns said through the firms’ inquest, from fiscal years 2015 to 2020, it found 95 transactions between the county’s treasury department and the school division. In the designated timeframe of the inquiry, it did not find any fraudulent transactions. Though state code requires all documentation and materials presented to public boards be immediately made available to the public, the Board of Supervisors had yet to do so with this report as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. On May 5, Tidewater Review staff again requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, for a copy of either the final or draft copy of the firm’s findings. Branch failed to provide the document until May 12, after the meeting where the report was discussed.
Tidewater Review
stories from around the country
A cyber gang on Thursday released data stolen from the Metropolitan Police Department after the agency refused to pay a $4 million ransom, according to a local news outlet. The Babuk ransomware group is said to have posted information related to crimes, investigations, daily intelligence briefings, hiring, leave requests and officer reinstatement, DCist reported. “We publish the full data of the police department, including HR, Gang Database, you will find a full range of all data in the amount of 250GB in all parts, this is an indicator of why we should pay, the police also wanted to pay us, but the amount turned out to be too small. look at this wall of shame, you have every chance of not getting there, just pay us!” the hackers reportedly wrote on the dark web.
The Washington Times

editorials & opinion
It was never about the money. Or so it would appear, from the fact that a First Amendment lawsuit against Jaunt was settled for a mere $4,000. It was always about information, and about Jaunt’s responsibility to be transparent to the taxpayers who help fund the agency. Local radio host Rob Schilling had filed suit against the agency for its refusal to provide public documents. “I’m disappointed that it took this much effort and that they were not forthcoming with the information as a publicly funded organization, which I think everybody knew they were,” Schilling said. However, the bottom line is that he is receiving access to the information, he said. Hopefully, no one else will ever have to go through these kinds of contortions to obtain public documents: Jaunt’s director of public relations says it will henceforth make public documents available on request. She also says the agency will undertake FOIA training for its employees. As the lawsuit recently proved, that’s something that’s sorely needed at the agency — the public agency.
The Daily Progress