Transparency News, 5/16/2022



May 16, 2022

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state & local news


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State officials are refusing to release a document that purportedly undercuts Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desire to remove Virginia from a greenhouse gas reduction program. Youngkin wants the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board to consider an emergency regulation that would remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate program in which energy producers charge their customers to cover the costs of reducing pollution. But a member of the air board said at the panel’s April 20 meeting that the attorney general’s office believes only the General Assembly can remove Virginia from the program. Hope Cupit said she received an “opinion” in March from the attorney general’s office. But she and the attorney general’s office declined to release it. Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said by email for this story that there had been “no official or unofficial AG’s opinion on RGGI issued by this administration.” But pressed as to whether the attorney general’s office provided Cupit with anything in writing, a special counsel in the office, Stephanie Hamlett, said there was a document. She said the attorney general declined to release it, and she cited a discretionary FOIA exemption for written advice of legal counsel.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

After over two hours of testimony, defense objections to much of that plaintiff testimony as hearsay or irrelevant, and arguments on the legal status of the Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms Inc. (POSF) regarding its necessity to comply with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law regarding its role in management or potential management of Farms Sanitary District projects, Warren County General District Judge Michael Helm offered a two-phased decision. First, he ruled that the POSF was functioning as a public entity subject to FOIA law related to its expenditure of Sanitary District fees collected by Warren County as tax revenue. “However,” the judge continued in ruling that the plaintiff had produced no substantial evidence in support of her alleged FOIA violations, including POSF “secret meetings” and non-FOIA compliant motions into closed sessions. Judge Helm elaborated that the plaintiff had submitted no evidence that she, or anyone, had submitted a FOIA request to the POSF that had not been responded to by FOIA law or that evidence of such requests was absent from her filing.
Royal Examiner

The Shenandoah County School Board heard from dozens of people about whether the names of Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School should be restored during its meeting Thursday night. In 2020, the school board voted to rename the Quicksburg schools because they were named for Confederate generals. The renaming was part of a resolution condemning racism and affirming the division’s commitment to an inclusive school environment for all. Since that 2020 vote, new school board members have been voted into office and some Shenandoah County residents have wanted to revisit the renaming decision. On Thursday, the meeting room was packed with every seat filled and some citizens standing. During public comment on agenda items, 43 citizens spoke on the subject of the school names. The public comments on the school names lasted slightly over two hours with comments from both sides.
The Northern Virginia Daily

stories of national interest

The subpoenas issued to five House Republicans by the Jan. 6 select committee remained shrouded in secrecy Friday, with lawmakers refusing to describe the scope or contents of the historic demands. Members of the select committee declined to say whether they had also subpoenaed telecom companies to obtain the phone and email records of the GOP lawmakers — a step they’ve taken with dozens, if not hundreds, of other witnesses. And they wouldn’t specify whether the subpoenas demand their Republican colleagues’ documents, in addition to their testimony.


editorials & columns

"In building “a culture of transparency,” I suggest that Mr. Moeller start on the fifth floor of the Patrick Henry Building."

Eric Moeller was appointed the Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer.  In building “a culture of transparency,” I suggest that Mr. Moeller start on the fifth floor of the Patrick Henry Building where the Office of the Governor and offices of cabinet members are located.  The first order of business should be a class on the basic requirements of Virginia law regarding transparency and accountability. Identifying myself as a contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion, I recently submitted a request to the Governor’s press office for copies of the resumes and other information regarding some of the Governor’s appointees.  The state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives government agencies five days to respond to such requests.  After more than five days had passed, I followed up on the request, reminding the staff member of the FOIA timeline.  The response was, “I was not aware this was a FOIA request as it was never indicated to be so in your email and was treating it as a media inquiry.”  In another instance, I submitted a request to the Secretary of Finance for a copy of a memo that had been sent to the agencies in his secretariat.  I did not specifically invoke the FOIA in my request.  Five days passed with no response.  I followed up, this time specifically referring to the FOIA.  Still no response.  In short, the Secretary is ignoring my request.
Dick Hall-Sizemore, Bacon's Rebellion

A week after the murder of George Floyd, Richmond police tear-gassed peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee monument. Nearly a year later, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he said the tear gas has been used “unintentionally.” It was left to the local newspaper, The Times-Dispatch, to set the record straight. This pushback is but one example of journalism’s role in promoting a healthy democracy. That topic that will be explored Tuesday during “What Makes a Fact True: Local Journalism and American Democracy,” a Richmond Public Library forum supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Book, in partnership with The Pulitzer Prizes. (I will be one of the panelists.)
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Yet we’re troubled by the possibility that, in their eagerness to close a deal on reopening Patrick County's hospital, state and local officials are skimping on a process that’s essential to all economic development efforts. That process is called due diligence.  We’re rooting for the success of the hospital deal, and acknowledge that risk is inherent in most every new business endeavor. Not to mention, eyebrow-raising financial controversies in wild, windy Chicago seem far removed from pastoral Patrick County. Yet the idea that Virginia officials would be surprised to learn of those controversies is bothersome, as the Block Club Chicago report is the very first thing that pops up when one types [Foresight Health President and CEO] “Sameer Suhail” and “Chicago” into Google — basic 21st century due diligence. We just want to emphasize that no steps should be skipped and no stones should be left unturned when taxpayer money and a community’s future hang in the balance.
The Roanoke Times

Seven years ago, the Norfolk FBI office launched a free, confidential public corruption tip line, 1-844-FIGHT PC, to encourage citizens to report suspected corruption and provide an easy way to share their concerns. Corrupt acts are acts done with the intent to provide an advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others. Public corruption, specifically, involves a breach of public trust or the abuse of a position by federal, state or local officials and their private-sector accomplices. Government or other trusted officials who use their position to obtain personal gain through means of bribes, deals and complex schemes commit serious crimes that erode trust in government institutions and damage policy integrity and public-sector outcomes. This month we are offering the public another safe, confidential way to submit public corruption tips: a new email address, NorfolkCorruption@Fbi.Gov. We are constantly working to make it easier for the public to report corruption and encourage citizens to call the tip line if they have information or suspicions about corrupt activity.
Brian C. Dugan and Jessica D. Aber, The Virginian-Pilot