Transparency News 5/8/19



May 8, 2019


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state & local news stories




A packed public comment period here, zero comment there.

The Virginia State Police agency has 359 body-worn cameras it has been preparing to use for more than two years, but state legislators have barred their deployment — at least until next year. The department, however, still will be allowed to activate more than 1,000 in-car cameras — a package of three each for 359 cruisers — that are part of a $3.8 million camera system upgrade the agency purchased in two stages in 2017 and 2018. The snag in the plan to deploy the new body cameras is in language the General Assembly included in the state’s budget that was finalized last week with the governor’s signature. The language restricts any state agency from using money to purchase or activate body cameras until further notice. Lawmakers acted to temporarily halt their use because of the costs associated with reviewing, redacting and storing the video, which city and county governments have experienced in recent years from using the devices. Many commonwealth’s attorneys’ offices around the state — particularly the larger ones — have been overwhelmed with extra work and sought additional staff because of the time it takes to process the camera footage in a criminal case.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Several speakers, including parents, voiced their displeasure Tuesday night about some of the employment issues that have recently occurred at Blacksburg High School. The comments, which were made to the Montgomery County School Board, came a day after Blacksburg High students staged a sit-in in response to the abrupt departure and replacement of principal Brian Kitts last week. The protest also aimed to raise concern about how Montgomery County Public Schools has communicated important employee matters. MCPS officials, citing personnel reasons, have disclosed few details on the cases concerning Kitts and history teacher Bradle Kraft. Students, parents and other community members have voiced disappointment with how the two issues were communicated.
The Roanoke Times

Warren county is taking steps to ensure more financial oversight of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, as the Board of Supervisors at its regular Tuesday meeting unanimously voted to become the authority’s fiscal agent. The EDA requested this arrangement after filing on March 26 a $17.6 million civil lawsuit against nine defendants for a series of alleged embezzlement schemes. County Human Resources Manager Jodi Saffelle said that serving as a fiscal agent means the county will be responsible for processing the EDA’s accounts payable and receivable. Saffelle explained that pros of the deal include: more checks and balances; that both the EDA board and the county would review financial matters; and that EDA employees would gain the benefits of county employees. She said negative aspects to the decision include the perception that the county and EDA are too entangled and extra workload for county staff such as being responsible for handling Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Northern Virginia Daily

The silence was deafening during a public hearing on the proposed $95,503,467 budget for Halifax County, with no members of the general public approaching the podium for comment either for or against the budget Monday during the monthly meeting of the board of supervisors.
The Gazette-Virginian


stories of national interest

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway is seeking a ruling from the state attorney general on whether the Governor's use of the First Amendment to deny access to information under the Sunshine Law is legal. If it is, Galloway says the Missouri Sunshine Law would be effectively rendered unconstitutional. In her request for a legal opinion, Galloway asserts that Governor Mike Parson has redacted information about the identities of people wanting to conduct business with, or lobby, the office of the Governor, claiming that the First Amendment protects the information. According to Galloway, the Governor claims that people who wanted to influence his office or otherwise do business with the office would be less willing to do so if their identities were known.



quote_2.jpgMissouri governor claims First Amendment right not to comply with records request.


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpgOpen government reforms include, legislative tracking, compliance enforcement and formal appeals.

Building trust in government requires a strong offense as well as a strong defense. The National Freedom of Information Coalition and its state coalitions support a multi-faceted approach beyond reactionary litigation to usher in needed reforms. Most litigation challenges bad laws that lead to bad policies. But before they were bad laws, they were bad bills. A proactive, holistic approach to needed legislative and policy reforms can prevent these bad laws and poor public policies from being created in the first place, including legislative tracking, compliance enforcement, formal appeals processes and technology solutions.
Dan Bevarly, Trust, Media and Democracy