Transparency News 6/13/19



June 13, 2019


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state & local news stories


"The norms and protocols suggest that board members who ask for information that will take longer than 60 minutes to research need to have the permission of the entire board to do so."

A Suffolk School Board member who has been pushing for open committee meetings believes her concerns have brought her ill treatment by other School Board members. Sherri Story, the Chuckatuck Borough representative on the board who took office in January, has hired an attorney in the wake of two disciplinary actions against her that she believes were unfair. Story has spoken out in favor of open committee meetings during her time on the board. She believes that has made her a target. The board approved “norms” and protocols to govern board members in their interactions during a meeting on March 14.  Story, however, takes issue with some of the norms and protocols and has disregarded them, which has gotten her into trouble with the rest of the board. The norms state that the first violation will result in a meeting with the chairperson; the second will result in written admonition delivered in closed session; and the third will result in discussion during a public meeting. On May 9, during a closed meeting of the School Board, Story was handed a five-page document, signed by the other members of the board, outlining five or six instances in which she had violated the norms and protocols. The norms and protocols suggest that board members who ask for information that will take longer than 60 minutes to research need to have the permission of the entire board to do so — implying that a board member needs the permission of six other people to file Freedom of Information Act requests as other citizens are able to do on their own.
Suffolk News Herald

Chesapeake School Board members voted to increase their salaries by 33 percent on Monday, giving themselves their first raise in almost 15 years. Pay for the four-year elected position will go up to $16,000 a year on July 1, 2020 from $12,000. The chair will earn $17,000 per year, up from $13,000. The increase will make Chesapeake's members the highest paid in Hampton Roads. The vote was 7-1 with Jeff Bunn opposing it and Colleen Leary absent. By comparison, Norfolk School Board members earn about $3,000 a year while Virginia Beach and Hampton's boards make about $12,000. A spokeswoman for Hampton said the board recently voted on a 3 percent raise. Other high earners are Newport News board members, who are paid $15,000 a year. Portsmouth School Board members earn $5,500 a year but voted March 21 to increase their salaries beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The amount has not yet been determined, a spokeswoman said. In Chesapeake, the School Board voted for an increase because the budget had a surplus, even after approving 4 percent raises for full and part-time employees, including teachers, Chairwoman Victoria Proffitt said.
The Virginian-Pilot

Two members of the Winchester City Council have expressed interest in transitioning from an appointed School Board to one that is elected. Their comments came on Tuesday night after Winchester School Board Chairwoman Allyson Pate presented City Council with the board’s request to reduce its size from nine to seven appointed members. If the referendum gets on the ballot and is approved by city voters, the School Board would change from one that is appointed by City Council to one that is elected by the public.
The Winchester Star

The Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority violated a nonprofit’s due process rights when it blocked prisoners from accessing books and magazines sent by the organization, a federal judge in Abingdon has ruled. The Human Rights Defense Center is a prisoners’ rights organization that regularly distributes reading material on legal news, current events and inmates’ rights to inmates. Although the authority’s four jails allowed books and other publications to be collected in common reading rooms, where prisoners could request up to two books at a time, the authority adopted a policy in 2016 that banned any books or publications from being delivered without case-by-case preapproval. Prisoners would be required to submit requests for each new magazine. According to the suit, the authority returned hundreds of magazine issues to the HRDC without clearly stating its policy on why they were being rejected.
Bristol Herald Courier

A study by the firm investigating the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority’s finances revealed that the authority’s former executive director Jennifer McDonald embezzled about $457,000 from town and county credit lines over 18 years to pay relatives for services such as maintenance work. The working papers filed by Cherry Bekaert, which are the basis for the EDA’s $17.6 million embezzlement lawsuit against McDonald and eight other defendants, list a variety of new allegations that were not included in the authority's initial complaint. With these new allegations, including the payments to relatives, the alleged embezzlement carried out at the EDA has increased to $21.1 million. Although the filing does not specify what kind of maintenance work the payments were filed under, former EDA interim executive director John Anzivino previously noted that strange payments regarding lawn maintenance and snow removal were uncovered.
The Northern Virginia Daily

Leesburg will pursue an option to annex the Joint Land Management Area it shares with Loudoun County after the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to make Loudoun Water – not Leesburg’s facilities – the presumed utility service for JLMA residents. After a closed session of more than an hour on Tuesday, Leesburg Town Council voted unanimously to direct Town Attorney Barbara Notar to add the item to a future agenda. Council members agreed the matter was urgent, but some questioned the need for a closed session and said that the town needs to talk with the county more before making a decision. “I did not feel there was enough information on the table,” said Councilman Ron Campbell. “We need more answers – not direction, not solutions.” Burk said annexing the land, a move that's technically a lawsuit, is Leesburg’s way of ensuring that the town will have utility rights over the land in the future.
The Loudoun Times-Mirror


stories of national interest

AT&T filed an amicus curiae brief in a privacy lawsuit against the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), arguing that the FirstNet national public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) is not subject to a government privacy law because it is operated and maintained by a private entity. In 2017, Vermont residents Stephen Whitaker and David Gram filed a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce, which houses the FirstNet Authority, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) over what they described as violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as well as privacy concerns over the FirstNet network. In December 2017, Vermont District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled that the FirstNet Authority is exempt from FOIA under language in the Middle Class Job Creation and Tax Relief Act, which created the authority. In July 2018, Crawford then dismissed the privacy claim involved in the case, ruling that Gram and Whitaker did not have standing to bring such a claim.
Radio Resource