Transparency News, 6/22/2022


June 22, 2022

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state & local news stories

"The online agenda offers little detail on what the elected leaders will discuss. ...  There are no supporting background documents attached to the agenda."

A local magistrate rejected Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover’s attempt to seek criminal charges against two sitting councilmen on the grounds that Glover lacked evidence, prompting the mayor to take his allegations to the Virginia attorney general’s office. Glover is claiming council member Mark Whitaker violated sections of the city code and charter by interfering with city business regarding a grant with the school system. He alleged Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes violated the city code by receiving payment from an organization that uses city services. But Glover offered little to no evidence to support his allegations, according to documents obtained by The Virginian-Pilot, and Norfolk’s chief magistrate, Ryan McLaughlin, declined to issue charges after not finding probable cause. Attorney general’s office spokesperson Victoria LaCivita confirmed that Glover has now filed a complaint with her office, but she declined to provide a copy to The Pilot.
The Virginian-Pilot

On Monday and Tuesday, following scrutiny of the governor's appointment of Casey Flores to the LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, Democrats and a top Virginia LGBTQ+ leader questioned the qualifications of Flores, who also made a sexual reference about Vice President Kamala Harris and said that he would “beat the s---” out of climate change protesters. Youngkin has declined so far to release Flores’ application for the post, which is a public record under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Five business days after the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked for a copy, an assistant emailed to say the governor’s office needed seven more days to respond — a provision of the law that allows more time for a response when “it is not practically possible” to respond within five days.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sparks flew during the County Board meeting on Saturday (June 18), where supporters and opponents of the proposed missing middle housing framework faced off. Supporters of the proposal like YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, which supports denser housing options, filled rows of seats at the meeting. They held up signs saying “Missing middle yes,” “Arlington is for everyone” and “Won’t you be my neighbor.” Meanwhile, opponents like Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) — an advocacy group against increased housing density — packed the other side of the room. They held up signs saying “The Arlington way has gone astray” and “Save our neighborhood. No upzoning here. No duplexes+ here.” Emotions ran so high as to elicit boos and shouts for speakers . . .  and for County Board Chair Katie Cristol, when she cut off another speaker for violating the “one speaker per topic” rule. (Other speakers were able to get around the rule, however, by talking about their concerns on the effects of increased housing density on schools and the county budget.

Elkton Town Council’s firing of Town Manager Greg Lunsford on Monday is a decision its mayor says set the town back 30 years. Lunsford — who was Elkton’s ninth town manager since 2001 — had served in the role since February 2020. After a discussion in closed session Monday, council members Randell Snow, Jay Dean, Troy Eppard and Steve America voted to fire Lunsford. Rick Workman and Heidi Zander voted against the motion. While there were other factors involved, Workman said, he believed the root cause of Lunsford’s termination was staff moving the pool tables at the Elkton Area Community Center. In May, staff moved the tables from the large, open-air room of the facility containing exercise equipment to a separate room. The pool tables’ move followed allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment by some of the regular pool players. Some say the decision was unnecessary and made without transparency, while others say it was the right thing to do after witnessing inappropriate comments to patrons using exercise areas near the pool tables.
Daily News Record

The Manassas City School Board is taking its show on the road. The elected body will hold its annual board retreat at Virginia School Board Association headquarters, 200 Hansen Road, in Charlottesville. The meeting is open to the public. The online agenda offers little detail on what the elected leaders will discuss. It lists student achievement and services, and finance and human resources, as discussion topics. There are no supporting background documents attached to the agenda.
Potomac Local

stories of national interest

"The public has a right to know what promises MSU has made in exchange for these gifts and MSU and these alumni have publicly celebrated their generosity. There is nothing 'private' about these agreements."

The Detroit Free Press sued Michigan State University on Tuesday, asking a judge to order the school to turn over gift agreements with two of its largest donors. The suit, filed in the state Court of Claims, alleges Michigan State violated state open records laws when it first denied a Free Press request for its agreements  with the two donors, Mat Ishbia and Steve St. Andre, and then when MSU  President Samuel Stanley denied an appeal for the records. "It is the University's position that the individuals' privacy interests outweigh the Free Press' stated interest in disclosure," Stanley wrote in his denial. "Contracts with public bodies are the essence of public records," Free Press Legal Counsel Herschel Fink said Tuesday. "The public has a right to know what promises MSU has made in exchange for these gifts and MSU and these alumni have publicly celebrated their generosity. There is nothing 'private' about these agreements."
Detroit Free Press

The Freedom of Information Act might be best known as a way for journalists and public interest groups to get information about the operations of government. But it can also be a tool for companies to get confidential information about their competitors. Safeguarding that information has gotten more complicated in the last few years. Because the state of the law around the FOIA exemption that applies to things like trade secrets, it’s all in flux. Nathan Castellano is a special counsel in the government contracts group at Jenner and Block. He wrote a recent briefing paper about these complications and talked about them with Federal News Network’s Jared Serbu on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
Federal News Network

A whopping 158 towns in Nebraska have gone more than 20 years without a full financial audit, including four towns where former clerks were charged with theft, according to data collected by Flatwater Free Press from state audit records. In almost every town where a clerk has been caught for fraud, audit reports have noted a lack of internal financial controls – essentially, not enough eyes on the cookie jar. It’s easy to see why small towns face financial risk from a rogue city clerk, experts say. Board members frequently work full-time jobs. The towns often lack resources to oversee detailed financial records, said Nebraska deputy auditor of public accounts Craig Kubicek.