Transparency News, 6/16/21


June 16, 2021
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Workshop on HB 2004:
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Changes and clarifications were proposed to the city council that could help the city and its employees navigate the complex nature of the Freedom of Information Act, but the long-standing state law still teeters on something that's been in short supply in politics — good faith. A memorandum being considered by the Staunton City Council could require departing council members to save all private emails and texts containing content relating to their duties as councillors up to three years old on a thumb drive and give to the city for safekeeping and future FOIA requests. It may also change how citizens and reporters request emails and texts from public officials, centralizing requests with an officer of the city. The proposed memoranda contains four sections, including: For the purposes of complying with FOIA requests for Council member emails, the City shall be considered the custodian for all Council member email transmissions including those sent and received through the City network. Several members raised questions in the council meeting about how the process works when a FOIA request asks for material from a council member's private emails, cellphones or personal devices. 
News Leader

The Spotsylvania County School Board has decided not to make any changes to its policy governing public comments at its meetings. The School Board's attorney, Jennifer Parrish, brought potential revisions to the policy for the board to discuss Monday evening. Parrish said she was inspired to review the policy following several recent meetings during which members of the public have targeted and threatened individual board members. Parrish said the board cannot—and would not wish to—regulate the content of public comments, but is legally allowed to regulate the "time, place and manner" of the comments. One of the potential revisions Parrish offered was limiting the amount of time each speaker is given to talk. The policy currently in place gives each speaker five minutes.  Parrish said the Board could state that speakers are "entitled to discuss school matters only, items on agenda or any other school related matters." Parrish said the board could also request that speakers address comments to the entire board and the board chair, not to any individual board member. She said board also could include an "aspirational goal"—that speakers "strive to maintain an appropriate level of respect and decorum in addressing the School board and be a model to students for how to respectfully disagree." 
The Free Lance-Star

The Herndon Town Council will resume in-person meetings next month after 15 months of virtual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first in-person meeting since last March will be held on July 6. Seats will be spaced six feet apart, and masks will be required for unvaccinated attendees to comply with CDC guidelines. Public hearings and work sessions will still be available for viewing via live stream, but interactions via WebEx will be discontinued. Those who wish to address the council must do so in person.

Virginia Tech president Tim Sands and athletic director Whit Babcock were signatories on a letter sent to Gov. Ralph Northam dated May 19 urging him to issue an executive order that would allow in-state student-athletes to capitalize on their name, image and likeness. The Roanoke Times obtained a copy of the letter through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The Roanoke Times