Transparency News, 5/9/2022



May 9, 2022

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David Olivis walks down the school hallway every day where he almost lost his life. The Heritage High School teacher and assistant basketball coach was trying to break up a fight at the school last year when one student pulled a gun and opened fire in a crowded hallway, wounding two students. Olivis, who was in the line of fire but wasn’t hit, went back to teaching as soon as he could. The shooting, captured on the school’s surveillance system, plays out in a matter of seconds. Footage of the incident and its immediate aftermath were entered into evidence April 29 at a plea hearing in Newport News Circuit Court where a 15-year-old former student, Jacari Taylor, admitted to the shooting. The Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot obtained the footage from the court clerk’s office and are publishing it for the first time.
The Virginian-Pilot

Americans wondering whether a nearby dam could be dangerous can look up the condition and hazard ratings of tens of thousands of dams nationwide using an online database run by the federal government. But they won’t find the condition of Smith Mountain Dam in Pittsylvania County, which holds Smith Mountain Lake. Or that of Hoover Dam, which impounds one the nation’s largest reservoirs on the border of Nevada and Arizona. Nor is there any condition listed for California’s Oroville Dam, the country’s tallest, which underwent a $1 billion makeover after its spillway failed. Details about the conditions of these and other prominent dams are kept secret from the public, listed as “not available” in the National Inventory of Dams. The lack of publicly available data about potentially hazardous dams has raised concern among some experts.
The Roanoke Times

To understand the landscape of challenges to books in Virginia, the Richmond Times-Dispatch sent public records requests to each of the state’s 132 public school systems seeking information on books that had been removed or placed under review in the past two school years. Twenty-three school districts confirmed that they had taken at least one book out of circulation for content reasons, while 90 said no books had been brought up for review. Six districts did not respond to records requests sent by The Times-Dispatch, and two others acknowledged requests, but sought to charge significant fees for relevant records. Chesterfield County Public Schools, which did not respond to questions from reporters about challenged books, estimated the combined cost of responding to an initial request for documents related to book bans and a subsequent request for relevant email records from Superintendent Mervin Daugherty and School Board members at over $4,000.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A data error triggered during the Virginia Employment Commission’s long-delayed transition to a new IT system late last year has resulted in thousands of applicants erroneously being told they were overpaid, the agency confirmed this week. The VEC intends to inform the 6,811 impacted individuals this month, Commissioner Carrie Roth said, letting them know they are not on the hook for returning money they never received. The problem is just one in a series of ongoing issues stemming from the conversion to the new system, and the latest in a long list of challenges for the beleaguered agency, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigned on overhauling. 
Asociated Press

Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer convened a hastily announced news conference outside City Hall last month to announce Police Chief Larry Boone would be retiring. Local news outlets weren’t alerted until a little more than an hour earlier. It lasted just two minutes; Filer was the only person to speak and refused to answer questions. Boone, who led the Norfolk Police Department for the last 5 ½ years and was an officer there for more than three decades, didn’t attend. The Virginian-Pilot has asked Boone for an interview multiple times, but the only response he’s provided so far was in a text saying he’d be willing to talk “in due time.” That’s left others to try to fill in the gaps. Filer declined to comment, writing in a text message that he’d already provided numerous statements on Boone’s retirement. “I have nothing further to add,” he wrote. Council member Tommy Smigiel was the only member to vote against a payment of $308,000 to Boone from the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program that was approved during a recent City Council meeting. The councilman said his “no” vote was due to his disappointment with the way Filer and his office handled Boone’s abrupt departure. He said the payment looked more like “a severance package” given to an ousted employee.
The Virginian-Pilot

Long-time Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) Board critic Melissa Chappell-White has added a FOIA violations complaint to her list of alleged failures of the organization. In fact, during a hearing on her complaint in Warren County General District Court on Wednesday, May 4, Chappell-White alleged to substitute Judge Ian Williams that the POSF had failed to comply with what she interpreted as a FOIA timeframe requirement for a response to her filing. Current POSF Board Chairman Ralph Rinaldi told the court his wife has signed for receipt of the paperwork the morning of the previous day, Tuesday, May 3rd, and he had first seen it later that afternoon. Judge Williams noted that normal FOIA response requirements alluded to 7 days for a provision of requested materials with an “at least 3-day” variable on what appeared to be referenced as notice of receipt of the FOIA filing.
Royal Examiner

All defendants have agreed to settlements in a defamation lawsuit brought by a witness of the Unite the Right car attack, likely bringing the case to a close. Filed on behalf of area activist and former U.S. Foreign Service officer Brennan Gilmore, the Gilmore v. Jones lawsuit had been inching its way to trial for several years. However, in the wake of Alex Jones settling in March, the rest of the remaining defendants followed suit, with the last defendant settling Tuesday.
The Daily Progress

The criminal case facing a Shenandoah County supervisor will get another special prosecutor because of a potential conflict of interest involving a TV celebrity. Woodstock-based attorney Bradley Pollack is due back in Shenandoah County General District Court at 8:45 a.m. on May 20 for his two misdemeanor charges of destruction of property. A motion for continuance was made during a Friday hearing in which Judge Amy Tisinger said that Shenandoah County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Kevin Black had issued an order for the refusal of Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Timothy Martin from the case. Martin was recently assigned to the case because of a conflict of interest involving Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley, who often prosecutes criminal cases against defendants represented by Pollack. On Friday, when asked by Tisinger why Martin was recused from the case, Pollack stated that he understood the reason was because of Pollack’s representation of Duane Chapman, also known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” in civil lawsuits that are subject to criminal investigations.
The Northern Virginia Daily

stories of national interest

A lawsuit brought by Iowa Capital Dispatch and others against Gov. Kim Reynolds that alleges her office repeatedly failed to comply with the state’s Open Records Law will proceed, a judge ruled Friday. Reynolds sought to dismiss the lawsuit, in part because her office provided some of the records after the lawsuit was filed in December and argued the issue was now moot. District Judge Joseph Seidlin disagreed: “If this was true, then there would be no enforceable obligation to turn over public records until the responsible party or entity is sued.” The suit, filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of Iowa Capital Dispatch, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and Bleeding Heartland, alleges that the governor’s office failed to respond to a total of 45 public information requests or renewed requests in the past two years.
Iowa Capital Dispatch