Transparency News 7/18/19



July 18, 2019


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state & local news stories


"This is a taxpayer-funded operation. They have the right to speak whenever they want on whatever topic they want."

A Chicago consulting firm has been selected to lead the independent investigation into the May 31 mass shooting at the city's municipal complex.  Police Chief Jim Cervera said the selected firm could review material from the mass shooting investigation in a "data center" established by his department, according to the document. The team could obtain copies of records that would be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Materials typically not released under the FOIA law could be viewed but not copied.  But Cervera said the ongoing criminal and internal investigations of the May 31 officer-involved shooting case will not be available to the firm, according to the document. In an apparent contradiction of what the chief indicated, City Auditor Lyndon Remias said the city, which includes the Police Department, will provide every document possible under local codes and state law, including discretionary materials.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Lynchburg City School Board is considering making changes to its public participation at school board meetings policy. The Lynchburg City School Board is considering making changes to its public participation at school board meetings policy. School board member Robert Brennan, who is a member of the governance policy work group that reviewed the policy and suggested the changes, said the public comments period is restricted to 30 minutes and "from a business meeting point of view of the agenda when we have people coming and making their point again and again, it takes up time other people could actually be speaking too."  Board member Atul Gupta expressed concerns on the possible change. "This is a taxpayer-funded operation. They have the right to speak whenever they want on whatever topic they want," Gupta said. 
The News & Advance

In addressing the Town of Front Royal’s amendment to its lawsuit upping its estimate of lost assets due to financial fraud in the workings of the local Economic Development Authority from $3 million to $15 million, Town Attorney Doug Napier commented on what he perceived as a somewhat surprising degree of sophistication in how alleged embezzlement and misdirection of EDA, and consequently Town, assets was accomplished. In its July 12 filing to amend the amount being sought for recovery from the EDA, the Town legal department notes that the “Financial Study” it had unsuccessfully been seeking a copy of from Warren County and the EDA over several months of FOIA requests had been “voluntarily” sent to it by County-contracted investigative accounting firm Cherry Bekaert. Information from that 2900-page report on signs of fraud within the EDA in hand, Town staff amended its original complaint upward by $12 million.
Royal Examiner

A federal judge ordered the release of a massive Drug Enforcement Administration dataset detailing just how big of a role drug companies and pharmacies have played in the country’s opioid epidemic. The data, according to the Washington Post, tracks the path of each pain pill sold in the country. Though Virginia wasn’t in the top five states with the highest concentration of pills, according to the Post’s analysis two towns, Norton and Martinsville, topped the list for per capital pills in rural areas from 2006 to 2012.
Virginia Mercury


stories of national interest

The St. Louis Park, Minnesota, City Council voted unanimously Monday night to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance, saying the firestorm of criticism over the issue has taken a toll on the staff and kept the city from doing its work. More than 100 people packed the City Council chambers Monday night to protest the council’s June 17 decision to do away with the pledge at most meetings. A similar protest took place last week. The pledge was not scheduled to be discussed Monday night, but Council Member Thom Miller made a motion to reinstate it because the city has been inundated with e-mails and phone calls, some that Miller believed endangered city staff and residents.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Though women racked up electoral gains in 2018, they are still underrepresented in politics at all levels. As of 2019, at the state level there are only nine female governors and 15 lieutenant governors, and less than 30% of legislative seats are held by women. In other political jobs,  women make up 24% of Congress and hold 20% of mayoral positions in large cities. But in one position, women are disproportionately overrepresented, and startling so: across the country, there is no state where fewer than 50% of county clerk positions are held by women. In some places, women have a near monopoly, such as Arkansas, where in 2016, 91% of county clerks were women.
Route Fifty

Twin brothers Erin and Evan Addison had never heard a podcast before joining the podcasting club at their school. And they managed to convince their best friend, Andrew Arevalo, to join as well. That was two years ago, when the three boys were in seventh grade at Steel City Academy, a charter school in Gary, Ind. But in March of 2018, their reporting took a serious turn. Students learned about a proposal to build a waste management facility next to their school — and they weren't happy about it. They started interviewing classmates and teachers. They learned how to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. They also attended informational meetings and peppered representatives from Maya Energy, the company behind the plant, with questions — their recorders rolling, of course. At one protest outside a Gary City Council meeting, about 150 students showed up to demand that the council reject the proposal. Student Malik Hubbard told Erin, "I really want Steel City to stay here. And that dump gotta go somewhere else."





editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"Amherst councilors have demonstrated they simply cannot be entrusted with the awesome power to nullify an election with no explanation whatsoever to the public."

An election, in which citizens select their representatives to govern in their names, is the foundation stone of our democratic republic. Taking part in one is, we would argue, the most important duty of a citizen of this nation. That’s why what happened last week at the July 10 meeting of the Amherst Town Council is so disturbing to us.  Amazingly, it was all done by the book, or rather by the town charter, which states that four-fifths of Town Council can vote to expel any member. The charter doesn’t spell out any reasons, thus leaving that up to the whims of council. We think the General Assembly should take a hard look at that in the upcoming session. Amherst councilors have demonstrated they simply cannot be entrusted with the awesome power to nullify an election with no explanation whatsoever to the public.
The News & Advance

Ever get the feeling that your local government agency is hoping you just go away? That certainly seems to be the case with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority in Virginia. Over the last six months, prying event basic information about plans to demolish its existing public housing in favor of an entirely voucher-based system has been an exercise in futility. By the time you get the document, you’re too late. RRHA held meetings that went unnoticed. Anyone lucky enough to show up didn’t get much in the way of answers: A request for a presentation shown at one of these meetings revealed that the slide justifying the decision consisted of a photo of a printout, and was therefore rendered illegible.
Tom Nash,