Transparency News 5/17/18



May 17, 2018


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state & local news stories


"Alexandria officials said they had signed a confidentiality agreement with Metro that prevented them from notifying the public."

A new state jail death investigator reviewing cases back to July 1 has closed 17 while 36 remain pending, including the death of an 18-year-old on Tuesday in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. The Board of Corrections, a panel of citizens appointed by the governor, has discussed the cases in closed sessions. No information about any of the closed cases has been made public. Bruce Cruser, executive director of the advocacy group Mental Health America of Virginia, questions why the board isn’t sharing more information with the public, wants to know how many deaths involved mental health or substance abuse, and said the board should explain what it means when a case is “closed.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Alexandria kept city residents in the dark for months about its plans to eliminate the southern entrance to the Potomac Yard Metro station, making public the changes to the project only weeks before Metro is expected to award a construction contract. Alexandria officials said they had signed a confidentiality agreement with Metro that prevented them from notifying the public about the decision to scrap the second entrance. Residents say the city’s decision to reduce the scope of the project without public input shows a troubling lack of transparency on its most important transportation venture of the era.
The Washington Post

Social media posts claiming Pittsylvania County officials violated state open records law by voting in two closed meetings prompted a news release Wednesday by the board of supervisors. The release, emailed by county deputy clerk Kaylyn McCluster, referenced the state’s ongoing investigation into complaints of a hostile work environment at the county’s branch of the Department of Social Services. “At no time during said Closed Sessions, in full compliance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, did the Board vote on the DSS situation,” reads the news release.
Register & Bee


stories of national interest

A Washington state court of appeals has rejected a conspiracy theorist's attempt to acquire photos of the death scene of Kurt Cobain, the beloved Nirvana frontman who killed himself in 1994. Richard Lee, who has spent years trying to prove that Cobain was murdered, has repeatedly asked the city of Seattle for access to the photos. A lower court had decided that the photos were exempt from state open-record laws, and that releasing them would violate the privacy of Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, and the couple's daughter. The court of appeals upheld that ruling.




editorials & columns


"The lack of timely disclosure of the involved officer’s identity . . . and its refusal to release camera footage to the public."

There was no toy gun. No mobile phone. No pill bottle. No pocket to reach into. If the runaway imagination of police officers too often leads to the fatal shootings of unarmed black males, the death of Essex High School biology teacher Marcus-David Peters represents a curious but no less tragic case. The naked appearance of Peters, a Henrico County resident, left nothing to the imagination before he was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer along Interstate 95/64. We don’t know all the facts, which often are complex. We should be careful about prejudging. But again, on this front, RPD is not helpful as it wraps itself in a cloak of secrecy, from the lack of timely disclosure of the involved officer’s identity — “They’ve had plenty of time for doing ‘risk assessment’ prior to release,” as Gastañaga points out — to its refusal to release camera footage to the public, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting. Police Chief Alfred Durham said the footage would be shown to Peters’ family, though the day and time had not been set.
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch

WE RECENTLY announced a new campaign to bring needed reforms to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, the large electric utility that serves many readers in this area. An electric cooperative is owned by its customers. If you get your power from REC, then you, like us, are a member-owner of REC. That means you have a right to be kept informed of your co-op’s affairs and have a say in how your co-op is run. This is especially important because REC members are supposed to elect the co-op’s board of directors, and the board’s decisions affect our pocketbooks. Yet it was was decided in a closed board meeting with little, if any, advance co-op-member input and review. We believe that significant decisions like these should be made in the open, so all REC members can see how their board functions, and with full member input and oversight.
John Levasseur, Michael Murphy and Seth Heald, The Free Lance-Star