Transparency News, 6/9/21


June 9, 2021
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state & local news stories
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Christiansburg Town Council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to publicly reprimand Councilwoman Johana Hicks, whose activities over the past year had raised ethical concerns among her colleagues.  Hicks, joined by Councilman Sam Bishop, voted against the reprimand resolution that was more widely disclosed and presented last month. Mayor Mike Barber, who is running for re-election with Hicks as his opponent, said the measure means she is reprimanded and held accountable for inappropriate actions and conduct that have undermined the public’s trust and confidence in town government. He said the reprimand will go into Hicks’ town council file. The reprimand resolution points out a number of issues involving Hicks that the governing body addressed on separate occasions over the past year. The councilwoman was asked to address each issue one by one on Tuesday and she had witnesses to back her. The issues identified in the resolution involve past social media comments related to a nearly $18 million park project off of Peppers Ferry Road, errors she had previously made in her mandatory financial disclosure forms and further comments she had made about a member of Downtown Christiansburg Inc. during discussions over the organization’s funding.
The Roanoke Times

A liaison committee meeting Monday between members of the Harrisonburg School Board and City Council to discuss the city’s second high school was canceled. The committee has been meeting to discuss issues surrounding the construction of the school, commonly called HHS2. The committee’s last meeting was in April. On the agenda for Monday’s meeting was the use of American Recovery Plan Act funds for the project, and a timeline for getting the project going. According to Michael Parks, spokesperson for the city, the meeting was canceled hours before it was set to take place because of concerns over it not being given proper notice per Freedom of Information Act regulations. The official notice needed to go out three business days in advance, but it was sent out by HCPS on Friday, Parks said.
Daily News-Record

When Eastern Virginia Medical School and Sentara clashed over the future of the school seven months ago, the school hired a PR firm, whose owner started a blog that has posted a flurry of negative pieces about its hospital partner. Since November, the blog has written many posts, some containing unsubstantiated claims about Sentara that it said came through tips. It also gives accounts of its attempts to get the hospital to respond to those claims. The relationship between EVMS’ crisis communications firm, Tigercomm, and the blog, known as Checks & Balances Project, was first published by The Washington Post on Friday. EVMS had not previously disclosed it.
The Virginian-Pilot
stories from around the country
"The great that the American public has invested millions of dollars in bodycam programs to promote police transparency and build public trust and yet footage often is inaccessible, unaffordable or heavily edited."
The family of Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt is suing to force Washington, D.C., to hand over records revealing the identity of the police officer who fatally shot her during the Jan. 6 invasion. The family is also demanding access to video footage of the shooting, witness statements and documents gathered during the Metropolitan Police Department’s investigation of the incident, according to the lawsuit. The litigation is separate from a forthcoming lawsuit in which Babbitt’s family plans to demand “well above $10 million” from the U.S. Capitol Police, a lawyer for the family told CNBC.

Newly available records show Army Air Forces Sgt. Earle V. Hann Jr. was aboard the HMT Rohna, a transport ship sunk by a German bomber in a devastating attack off the coast of Algeria on Nov. 26, 1943. A staggering 1,015 American soldiers lost their lives in the incident, making it the deadliest encounter at sea in the history of the U.S. military. But the U.S. War Department swore the nearly 700 survivors to secrecy under threat of court-martial, leaving the disaster all but unknown to the public for more than 50 years. The decision didn’t just keep the fate of the Rohna out of the newspapers and history books. It left the parents of those killed — including Hann’s mother, Elizabeth Doerer Hann, who died in 1980 — in the dark about what had happened to their sons. 
The Washington Post

Pixelations that blur the image and alterations that mute the sound are used by the Memphis Police Department and many other police agencies to protect the identity of juveniles and other privacy concerns. But they also often obscure police actions, making it difficult to assess whether officers acted responsibly or improperly. Such redactions require time and effort to insert and, collectively, they’re helping create a nationwide backlog in the public’s demand for police video, colliding privacy interests with another cherished American value: The public’s right to know. “It’s a persistent issue almost everywhere,’’ said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. Extensive redactions not only obscure what’s seen and heard, they’re triggering prohibitively steep costs and months-long waits as police charge hourly labor fees for censors to go frame by frame through footage. The great irony, critics say, is that the American public has invested millions of dollars in bodycam programs to promote police transparency and build public trust and yet footage often is inaccessible, unaffordable or heavily edited.
Daily Memphian