Transparency News, 5/29/20


May 29, 2020
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state & local news stories
"The city’s insurance pool picked up the rest of the tab, which has led at least one open-government advocate to suggest the settlement could lead to higher insurance costs down the road."

The Supreme Court of VIrginia ruled unanimously yesterday that the Smyth County Board of Supervisors used an improper motion to go into closed session and talked about matters beyond the scope of the claimed exemption.
Read the opinion on VCOG's website
Observers called a Thursday ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court a victory for the citizens of Smyth County and the commonwealth of Virginia. The Freedom of Information case had been appealed to the court by Beverly Cole, both individually and as president on behalf of the non-profit Friends of the Smyth-Bland Regional Library. The case accused the Smyth County Board of Supervisors of violating the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act when its members discussed dissolving the Smyth-Bland Regional Library behind closed doors without properly disclosing the subject of the discussion. In the opinion written by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, the justice upheld the case’s claims.
Smyth County News & Messenger
And this write-up by the Associated Press

A settlement struck to end a federal lawsuit against two former Lynchburg police officers resulted in the largest payout in the city’s history, a city official said. The complete scope of the deal reached with Walker Sigler, a Hill City man shot by police at his home in 2018, is still secret. But records obtained by The News & Advance show city taxpayers were on the hook for the first $500,000 of the record-setting payout. In an interview, City Attorney Walter Erwin acknowledged Lynchburg paid out the entirety of its half-million dollar deductible for the first time in the city’s history. The city’s insurance pool picked up the rest of the tab, which has led at least one open-government advocate to suggest the settlement could lead to higher insurance costs down the road. 
Register & Bee

Virginia Beach didn’t violate its contract with a developer in 2017 when it backed out of a multi-million dollar plan to build a sports and entertainment arena at the city’s Oceanfront, according to the state’s highest court. In an opinion issued Thursday, the Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed an April 2019 decision made by a Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge who ruled in favor of the city at the end of a week-and-a-half-long trial. In ruling for the city, Circuit Judge Thomas Padrick said officials had a right to review documents related to the loan’s closing that the developer had withheld from them. The judge also said the evidence showed there was a mad scramble to close on the loan and that the documents were delivered too late for the city to properly review them.
The Virginian-Pilot
stories of national interest

Police in Minneapolis released a CNN reporter who was led off in handcuffs along with his film crew while reporting live on television early Friday morning during violent protests in the city. Officers gave no explanation as they escorted reporter Omar Jimenez away. He had just shown a protester being arrested when about half a dozen police officers in gas masks surrounded him. More than an hour later, the crew was released.

editorials & columns

The Prince William County School Board has hired both a forensics firm and a law firm in its investigation of direct messages sent to students on Twitter by Dr. Steve Walts, the superintendent of schools (@superpwcs). And then the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, which sends over 57% of all county general fund revenue to the school system, voted 7-1 to authorize its lawyers to file a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all of Walts’ direct messages over the past 18 months – of which there are reportedly thousands. That cha-ching sound you hear is the legal fees adding up – legal fees that will be paid by Prince William taxpayers. And we’re not entirely sure what needs to be investigated here, unless the school board is just trying to figure out how to fire Walts without having to pay him for the remainder of his contract.  Prince William’s policy, like that of many other school systems, is clear.   Administrators and teachers should only use official school email accounts to contact students — and then only for legitimate purposes connected to school programs or activities. The use of social media, texting and the like to contact students is prohibited.