Transparency News, 6/30/2022


June 30, 2022

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state & local news stories

"Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles described the discussion of the city attorney's contract in a public session as a 'vicious attack on the person.'"

At the Portsmouth City Council meeting Tuesday night, council members bickered over a $400,000 severance provision that’s been put in the incoming city manager’s contract and citizens voiced their disapproval of the council’s behavior. The severance payment would amount to two years’ worth of salary for Tonya Chapman if she is terminated without cause in her first year, several members said. It’s an unusually high severance payout — four times higher than what the council has agreed to in recent years. And some council members believe there’s an ulterior motive: Because Chapman was a controversial hire, making it expensive to fire her could serve as a deterrent if shifting political winds alter the council majority that brought her on board. The proposal to give Chapman two years’ worth of severance, according to Councilwoman Lisa Lucas-Burke, came from the council’s “personnel committee,” which is only made up of two councilmembers: Mark Whitaker and Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes.
The Virginian-Pilot

By majority vote, Martinsville City Council declined twice on Tuesday to have an outside attorney review the City Attorney’s employment contract and either bring the old one current or write a new one. As at last meeting, an argument ensued among council members over whether a discussion of an employment contract was appropriate to have in public. “This is an H.R. [Human Resources] issue,” said Council Member Chad Martin. “You’re opening us up for litigation.” “We have a fiduciary responsibility. It’s not an H.R. issue,” said Council Member Tammy Pearson. “We can do this in public.” Said Mayor Kathy Lawson: “It was stated that it was a personnel matter,” referring to a comment at last month’s meeting, “but we will vote in public.” Council Member Danny Turner proposed a motion to have Council obtain outside counsel to review City Attorney Eric Monday’s contract. Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles described the discussion of Monday’s contract in a public session as a “vicious attack on the person.”
Martinsville Bulletin

County supervisors are considering changes on the rules for non-English speakers giving input during their meetings, stirring alarm from New Virginia Majority. The current rules allow most speakers two and a half minutes to share their thoughts during Board of Supervisor meetings, and non-native English speakers a total of five minutes, allowing time for interpreters to translate their speech. Non-English speakers were rare in the boardroom until organizing efforts by New Virginia Majority. Now, Spanish-speaking Loudouners are a regular part of public input sessions, often with interpretation provided by New Virginia Majority organizers. Supervisors are considering limiting their speaking time to two and a half minutes, the same amount of time as English speakers.
Loudoun Now

Some Quantico homeowners could see their town real estate tax bills increase this year, but it appears the town didn’t meet state requirements for notifying residents. Because the town’s real estate tax rate isn’t being reduced to offset the increase in assessed value, many homeowners will see an increase in their bills, an effective tax increase. It does not appear the town followed state law for proper public notice of such an increase. When asked for detail on what rate would have avoided the effective tax increase, Brown said, “You would have to do your [own] math on that depending on what [specific] set of data or assumptions you are using. The town has kept the same tax rate for many years.” Virginia law requires localities to publish a public notice and hold a hearing about an effective tax rate increase. The law provides specific guidelines for the format of such notice as well. The notices are required to be posted 30 days before the hearing, with some exceptions allowing it 14 days beforehand. The Virginia Press Association compiles public notices throughout the state, and its online site has a copy of a notice published by the town in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star on June 14. That notice does not follow the guidelines for a notice on an effective tax increase, nor does it indicate that such an increase will occur.
Inside NoVa

Clarke County Public Schools officials say they're not trying to hide anything from the public about two recent matters that generated controversy. One was the departure of Jon Cousins, head coach for girls' soccer at Clarke County High School. The other was the report of a Johnson-Williams Middle School student making a "kill list" containing names of 15 students. During a Clarke County School Board meeting Monday night, officials acknowledged that the public has weighed in on the matters, including through social media. There's a perception within the community that the school division is "covering things up," said board Vice Chairwoman Katie Kerr-Hobert. She participated in the meeting via phone. Officials maintain they're being as transparent as possible about both matters. "Coach Cousins is no longer employed by CCPS due to his behavior at the state quarterfinal game at Poquoson," Bishop wrote in an email to The Star on Tuesday. "The specifics related to personnel matters are handled confidentially by the division. We have no other comments related to the specific circumstances at this time."
The Winchester Star

stories of national interest

"The unanimous decision reverses earlier rulings, which said the amounts of the tax credits were confidential and could be redacted from a state response to a FOIA request. "

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is urging the Mississippi State Department of Health to rescind its new policy restricting freelance journalists’ timely access to press conferences and other public announcements through its media distribution list. “This new policy is discriminatory and violates the freedoms of speech and of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment and the analogous provisions of the Mississippi Constitution,” Reporters Committee attorneys wrote in a letter sent to health department officials on June 24. Without explanation, the health department revised its media distribution lists last year to remove freelance journalists, preventing them from attending live press conferences about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and receiving timely announcements about other important issues.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The state must disclose the amounts of tax credits issued to General Motors under a 2016 agreement, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a case that could impact other requests for similar information under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. The unanimous decision reverses earlier rulings by both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Court of Claims, which said the amounts of the tax credits were confidential and could be redacted from a state response to a FOIA request. David Sole, a Detroit resident, requested the information through FOIA from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The state agency responded to Sole's request by providing him with its 2016 agreement with GM related to tax credits, but redacting the amount of the "tax credit cap," or the total amount GM was eligible to receive under the agreement. The MEDC said the amount of the tax credits was exempt from disclosure under the Michigan Strategic Fund Act, which says the state does not have to disclose records or data related to financial or proprietary information submitted by an applicant for tax credits. The value of the credits was calculated using financial or proprietary information submitted by GM, making those numbers exempt, the MEDC said.
Detroit Free Press