Transparency News, 6/26/20


June 26, 2020
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state & local news stories
VCOG is saddened to announce that Dick Hammerstrom, an 11-year veteran of VCOG’s Board of Directors and its president for the past 3-½ years, is stepping down from both positions. Read more here.
A federal judge in Virginia awarded $2 million in attorney fees against two Virginia court clerks on Wednesday in a First Amendment action brought by Courthouse News on behalf of the press corps. The fee award came as the result of a verdict in favor of the press after a four-day trial in late January. U.S. Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the press has the right under the First Amendment to see new case filings on the day they are filed. The defending clerks in Prince William and Norfolk had pushed journalists back behind a series of clerical tasks that included setting up a docket and scanning the filings. Reporters were then directed to computer screens to view new cases a day or two after they crossed the counter.
Courthouse News

The Farmville Town Council may not have been in accordance with state law with regard to its reason for initiating a closed meeting during its June 18 continued council meeting. The fact the open part of the continued council meeting was not live-streamed, like the council’s other meetings have been during the COVID-19 pandemic, has also drawn questions. What follows is a quote, in full, of the exemption the council used to discuss the statue’s removal in a closed meeting: “Discussion or consideration of the acquisition of real property for a public purpose, or of the disposition of publicly held real property, where discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.” Virginia Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Megan Rhyne said this section of the Code of Virginia is designed to protect the government in a negotiation over the price of buying or selling land. 
The Farmville Herald

Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey Curry resigned Tuesday as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officer for the Planning Commission. The abrupt resignation by the no-nonsense administrator comes on the heels of Planning Commission Chair David Konick and three fellow planners voting to exclude three other commission members from last Wednesday’s meeting. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, the three excluded members had earlier invoked a section of FOIA that allows members of public bodies to participate in public meetings electronically — in this case, through a Zoom video conference — due to “a temporary or permanent disability or other medical condition that prevents the member's physical attendance.” Konick, however, claimed that two of the excluded members “volunteered” that they weren’t sick, which to his mind and apparently those of the three others in attendance was enough to invoke a policy adopted earlier this year by the planners.
Rappahannock News

A petition to remove Warren County supervisors Tony Carter and Archie Fox from office has been dropped from Warren County Circuit Court. In October, the petition was filed against all supervisors in office at the time – including three former board members Linda Glavis, Dan Murray and Tom Sayre. The petition claimed their lacking oversight of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority resulted in alleged embezzlement. At the request of Special Prosecutor Michael Parker, the petition was dropped without prejudice, meaning it can be refiled within six months. County Attorney Jason Ham stated in a letter to the two current and three former supervisors that is an unlikely scenario after discussions with Parker.
The Northern Virginia Daily
stories of national interest
“Why are we releasing this information this way and at this time? Because it is the right thing to do."
A new lawsuit is seeking to lay bare how the White House censored former national security adviser John Bolton’s book and whether the passages officials wanted deleted were true national security secrets or just embarrassing to President Donald Trump. The Freedom of Information act lawsuit filed early Thursday in Washington demands details on the prepublication review process for Bolton’s book, “The Room Where It Happened,” which was formally released for sale Tuesday. The suit follows up on FOIA requests submitted earlier this year by a prominent legal blogger and attorney, Devin Stone. Stone says he’s suspicious that politics infected the review of Bolton’s manuscript.

Now-former Wilmington Police Department officer Kevin Piner, along with two other officers, have been fired from the department after dash-cam footage recorded two phone conversations — accidentally — and a supervisor conducting a routine audit of the videos found the disturbing content. In North Carolina, public records laws typically prevent government agencies from handing out information on personnel; however, in extraordinary circumstances, details can be released to the public. The former officers actively tried to prevent a release of the information, and an attorney filed an apparently unsuccessful motion for a temporary restraining order, but ultimately the city decided it was the right thing to do. “Why are we releasing this information this way and at this time? Because it is the right thing to do. Normally, personnel laws allow only a very small amount of information to be made public. However, in exceptional cases, when it is essential to maintain public confidence in the administration of the City and the Police Department, more information may be released.  This is the most exceptional and difficult case I have encountered in my career. We must establish new reforms for policing here at home and throughout this country,” Williams said.
Port City Daily