Transparency News, 6/16/2022


June 16, 2022

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state & local news stories

Former Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney is suing the city of Charlottesville as well as several current and former city officials for $10 million in connection with the September 2021 termination of her contract. In the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday morning, Brackney alleges that her firing was due to discrimination on the basis of race, color and sex. She also accuses the city and officials of defamation, business conspiracy and unlawful retaliation, among other allegations. Brackney claims city officials doctored records and included fabricated documents in responses to FOIA requests she filed and alleges defamation on the basis of statements made by city officials in news stories and press releases. At the press conference Wednesday, Brackney said she has audio tapes of every conversation she has ever had with Boyles as well as tapes of conversations with other city officials.
The Daily Progress

Officers continue to be disciplined for violating policy at Riverside Regional Jail, which has previously been found out of compliance with minimum state correctional standards. An officer there was fired for falsifying records in connection to the suicide of an inmate in April.  The suicide happened April 20, and the officer “was terminated for not making and falsifying rounds,” according to documents Riverside gave to the state. Jail officials would not release the name of the inmate who died. Jail Superintendent Larry Leabough did not respond to an email Wednesday. Asked what he thought of the jail’s record under increased supervision by his board, Vernie Francis Jr. — chair of the State Board of Local and Regional Jails — declined to comment.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia State Police have concluded their investigation into missing records in the Town of Mineral, and have determined that there is no evidence to suggest that the records were destroyed or taken. During the Mineral Town Council’s June 13 meeting, Town Attorney Andrea Erard reported the results of the investigation to council. The investigator concluded that it was more likely a case of “lack of historical organization more than missing records.” Council requested the investigation following discussion in closed session at their April 11 meeting at the urging of then-Interim Town Manager Reese Peck. The records in question include town zoning files and financial records which had been lost or misplaced during various staff transitions at town hall, though it was unclear if the records had been moved intentionally or by accident  Also at the June 13 meeting, Mayor Pam Harlowe requested that council void the resolution passed at the April 11 meeting censuring her for her behavior toward then-Interim Town Manager Reese Peck, including calling him a “jackass.”
The Central Virginian

Elkton’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year adds a new line item: a position for a Freedom of Information Act officer. Greg Lunsford, town manager, said a designated FOIA officer is unheard of for a town Elkton’s size of about 2,900 people. Elkton received 53 FOIA requests in the last year, while other towns in Rockingham County receive about two to five FOIA requests per year, Lunsford said. If the budget is approved, Elkton would become the first municipality in Rockingham County to have a FOIA officer position. In Rockingham County, town managers, assistant town managers or town clerks typically handle FOIA requests. According to records obtained via FOIA request, most of Elkton’s FOIA requests in the past year came from the town’s former mayor, Wayne Printz. Printz said it is “almost impossible” to try to obtain information from the town.
Daily News Record

Unlike Henry County, Martinsville City Council appoints the members of the City’s School Board. Members of the Henry County School Board are elected by voters of each district, while one at-large member is determined by voters in all districts. School Board candidates in Henry County typically campaign for the office and during the process present their qualifications to the voters and explain why they are seeking the position. City Council accepts the names of people to be considered at a public hearing. The candidate is not required to be present in order to have his or her name added. The interview process is conducted privately, and a vote by Council members is also conducted in private, often leaving residents of the City without knowing about the qualifications of those being considered or why they desire to be on the School Board. The Bulletin attempts to interview those selected by Council to serve on the School Board, but even then the qualifications of those chosen may not be disclosed.
Martinsville Bulletin

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors was criticized by speakers during a Tuesday public hearing about the potential sale of a county-owned property. The hearing was on the potential disposition of property at 317 Tisinger Road in Mount Jackson, which the county assumed ownership of after a Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office undercover operation in 2018. Five citizens spoke during the public hearing, and many claimed that the property for sale was not advertised, and that they were unaware that it was for sale. “No one was notified that the property was for sale,” said New Market resident Renee Hawkins. Mount Jackson resident Karen Kwiatkowski claimed that GIS information — a way people could have learned the property was for sale — is not completely updated. “That public information is both confusing and an error,” she said. Speaker Charles Street criticized that the public hearing was held at a 4 p.m. meeting, saying “if you’re going to have a public hearing, it needs to be at 7 p.m. if you want the public to respond.”
The Northern Virginia Daily

After months of preparation and work from Pittsylvania County staff, a brand new and improved Pittsylvania County website will go live beginning June 15. County staff chose to create a new website to improve the mobile experience, streamline the site organization, and add significantly more content about County services and operations. During the 2021 calendar year, the Pittsylvania County website had more than 813,000 total page views from 264,000 different users, making the website one of the County’s most important communication channels. Over 41% of those users viewed the County website on a mobile device, which shows the importance of being able to customize the website so those users can easily find the right information.

stories of national interest

The FBI either lied to a federal judge about having video of its secretive 2018 dig for Civil War-era gold, or illegally destroyed the video to prevent a father-son team of treasure hunters from gaining access to it, an attorney for the duo asserted in new legal filings that allege a government cover-up. The FBI has long insisted its agents recovered nothing of value when they went looking for the fabled gold cache. But Finders Keepers, a treasure-hunting company that led agents to the remote woodland site in Pennsylvania in hopes of getting a finder's fee, suspect the FBI found tons of gold and made off with it. After Finders Keepers began pressing the government for information about the dig, the FBI initially said it could produce 17 relevant video files. Then, without explanation, the FBI reduced that number to four. Last week, under court order, the agency finally revealed what it said were the contents of those four videos — and it turns out all had been provided to the FBI by Finders Keepers co-owner Dennis Parada himself, weeks before the dig, at a time when he was offering his evidence for buried treasure. On March 13, 2018, Parada's hidden trail camera captured what appears to be an FBI agent in front of a video camera at the hillside dig site, with other agents in the background. The trail-cam image was included in a legal filing late Friday by lawyer Anne Weismann, who represents Finders Keepers in its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government.