Transparency News, 6/18/20


June 18, 2020
follow us on Twitter and Facebook



state & local news stories
"[The plaintiff's] attorney said the agency had three options, provide the information, say it doesn’t exist, or ask for more time to find it."

Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion this morning on the removal petitions filed by the Virginia State Board of Elections against to members of the City of Hopewell Electoral Board. Allegations against the members including meeting at least three times without following proper notice procedures under FOIA.
Supreme Court of Virginia

Tazewell County’s Department of Social Services has been found guilty of violating the Freedom of Information Act. Wythe County General District Judge Gerald Mabe issued a writ of Mandamus against the agency June 17 for failure to submit an answer to a Freedom of Information request from Tazewell Attorney Fred Harman. Harman had filed a request June 1 by email and regular mail asking for their exposure control plan for blood borne pathogens.  Harman, whose mother died from Covid-19 said he filed the request after learning an employee of the agency was diagnosed with the virus and nothing was done to prevent others from catching it. He said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration required that plan to be on file. Interim Social Services Director David Taylor said he was unable to find the plan and had contacted the state office but had not received an answer.  Harman’s attorney Shannon Cooke of Cedar Bluff said the agency had three options, provide the information, say it doesn’t exist, or ask for more time to find it.  Cooke said the law allows five working days for an answer to be offered. Collins said he agreed to represent the agency and determined that the information did not exist.  Mabe told Collins to give Harman a letter stating that and imposed the minimum fine of $500.
Southwest Virginia Today

Virginia has completed about half of the requests it has received to do widespread testing of COVID-19 at nursing homes, workplaces and prisons and in the community. The Virginia Department of Health on Wednesday provided information on the point prevalence surveys it began to do in April with the help of the National Guard. During the surveys, all employees, and in the case of homes, all residents, are tested within a window of time to better understand how many might be infected. The state did not provide testing results. The department has not responded to repeated requests for information about the results of the surveys and has not provided the rate of positive to negative tests. The information is not available on the department’s website.
The Roanoke Times

Charlottesville boards will continue meeting electronically over the next two months and the city will begin accepting development applications as the world starts to adjust to the new normal of the coronavirus pandemic. The City Council approved continuing electronic meetings and partially opening the Department of Neighborhood Development Services during its meeting Monday. The council previously authorized virtual meetings for the Board of Architectural Review, Board of Equalization, Community Development Block Grant Task Force, Housing Advisory Committee, Human Rights Commission, Planning Commission, Police Civilian Review Board and Retirement Commission. The list was amended to allow one virtual meeting each of the Tree Commission, Sister City Commission and Community Policy and Management Team.
The Daily Progress


editorials & columns

The Western Tidewater Health District has some explaining to do in the wake of news that eight people at Consulate Health Care in Windsor died as a result of COVID-19 in April and May but neither public health officials nor the facility’s management bothered to inform a jittery citizenry. Our newspaper first began digging into the story when Isle of Wight’s COVID-19 numbers spiked overnight in late April and public health officials would not explain why. Local elected officials were told not to talk about it. From the beginning, state and regional health officials in Virginia have put the profits and reputations of nursing home above public health during a global pandemic. When states all around the country were being fully transparent about nursing homes as a major hotspot for coronavirus outbreaks, Virginia doubled down in citing an obscure state law that state officials claim gives corporations the same right of “privacy” as patients. You won’t read this statement often in this space, but thank God for the federal government. Deeply disturbed by the lack of transparency by nursing home owners and some states, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid began mandating that long-term care facilities report their COVID numbers for dissemination to the public beginning in late May. In that database The Times found the shocking numbers from Consulate. 
The Smithfield Times, reprinted on VCOG's website

American taxpayers should not be handing out hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to businesses without having at least some idea of where our money is going. That seems obvious. However, demanding such transparency puts the U.S. Treasury Department — and some of the businesses being assisted — in a tough position. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress last week that recipients of about $600 billion in coronavirus relief funds will not be disclosed publicly. “We believe that that’s proprietary information and, in many cases for sole proprietors and small businesses, is confidential information,” Mnuchin told members of the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee. Mnuchin is right, however. Disclosing that a business required federal aid and how much was obtained could be very valuable to the firm’s competitors. Even the opposite, learning that a company was secure enough it did not have to seek help, could give competitors an advantage. Still, the larger and more hastily implemented the federal program, the more likelihood there is of improprieties. Six hundred billion dollars handed out in just a few weeks certainly would seem to fit the category. So some transparency is essential. It is up to Congress and Mnuchen to work out some way of making that happen.
Daily News Record