Transparency News, 7/14/20


July 14, 2020
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state & local news stories
An unlikely coalition of Norfolk School Board members banded together Monday to replace the chair and vice chair who led the board during two tumultuous years of bickering and infighting. Saying she’d lost confidence in Noelle Gabriel’s ability to bring the board together, Adale Martin nominated herself for the job as chairwoman and was backed by three members who’ve been critical of Gabriel’s leadership nearly from the start two years ago. Martin has generally sided with Gabriel and Clanton on decisions and, at times, expressed frustration with how publicly the minority members have aired their complaints. She’s also dismissed some of the complaints brought up by public speakers, saying it’s “a threat. They’re trying to divide us.”
The Virginian-Pilot

Sheriff’s deputies have taken over round-the-clock security at the Norfolk courthouse after a Virginian-Pilot investigation exposed failures that plagued private security guards for years. The switch from Top Guard, Inc., to the sheriff’s office came after The Pilot last month published an investigation into Top Guard’s failures. City officials documented nearly 100 incidents between 2015 and January when The Virginian-Pilot made a public records request for the document. The 97 issues documented with the private guards included at least 22 cases of not showing up for duty, 18 of not doing their job, nine of suspected theft, nine of being on their phone instead of working, and five of sleeping on duty.
The Virginian-Pilot

The mother of a Roanoke Valley man killed in a police shooting last fall is asking a judge to order investigators to release video footage of the events to her. Chase Andrew Austin, 28, of Vinton was shot during an Oct. 16 confrontation with a Roanoke police officer that officials said began as a trespassing call at a Krispy Kreme on Hershberger Road. In a court motion filed last week in Roanoke County, Lori Hall said she should be given copies of all of the security footage collected by investigators after the shooting. Officials arranged one viewing of footage for her as their inquiry drew to a close in February, she said, but what she saw raised new questions for her. She wasn’t allowed to bring anyone with her to the meeting or make a copy of the videos, according to the court filing. In their motion, Hall’s counsel wrote that other cases nationwide — George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and others — have shown how crucial access to video can be in assessing events. Hall said after she met with authorities, she tried to formally seek copies of all security camera footage gathered by submitting Freedom of Information Act requests to the Roanoke Police Department and the Virginia State Police. Both requests were denied.
The Roanoke Times

A white Fairfax County police officer who was charged with assaulting a black man by using a Taser on him without apparent provocation in June failed to turn in body-worn camera footage of the incident at the end of his shift as required, a prosecutor said Monday. Officer Tyler Timberlake went home sick after the alleged assault on June 5, taking the camera that contained the footage with him, said Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Frank. Timberlake also called in sick the next day and had an imminent flight scheduled as part of a move to Minneapolis, Frank said.
The Washington Post

Counties in Central Virginia teamed up to create a new website called “Know Your Rights,” that pulls together resources for citizens to find information on laws surrounding discrimination.  Chesterfield County Administrator Joe Casey says with all the news around the country regarding social justice and discrimination, he asked himself what role Chesterfield can play in that discussion. Casey says the website will keep adding new information on a regular basis. 

It is the view of the Floyd County Electoral Board, according to a letter sent to the Floyd County Board of Supervisors on July 7, that placing the issue of whether or not to remove the county’s Confederate monument on referendum this fall would impede the board’s ability to fulfill its duties. All three members reached what Belinsky called a “unanimous” decision to contact the Board of Supervisors last week. Neither Smith nor Avellar could be reached for comment despite attempts by phone and email, but board secretary Tammy Belinsky said, “We all participated in drafting the letter,” which was affixed with Smith’s signature.
The Floyd Press


editorials & columns
What some have described as a “citizen legislature” approach to governance in the United States means that the overwhelming majority of members of Congress have private business interests. Inevitably, some of what they do affects their personal finances. Quite a few of them have benefited from massive programs meant to curb damage to the economy from business and social restrictions linked to the COVID-19 crisis. At least a dozen lawmakers are linked to companies and organizations that received money through the Paycheck Protection Program, The Associated Press reports.  High-profile beneficiaries included a hotel owned in part by the husband of House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Also, a shipping business owned by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family received PPP aid. Her husband is U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Several other lawmakers have links to firms and organizations that received PPP money. In addition, business interests linked to a number of governors have landed help from the PPP. Is all that evidence of widespread corruption in government? Of course not. Government has become such a pervasive part of the economy that it would be surprising if local, state and federal funds often did not benefit officeholders. But, especially when high-ranking officials are involved, oversight is essential to ensure wrongdoing did not occur.
Daily News-Record