Transparency News, 7/24/20


July 24, 2020
follow us on Twitter and Facebook

state & local news stories
"When asked why the state isn't already sharing such information to better inform decisions about starting the school year, Qarni said state officials only recently came up with the idea."
Virginia’s school divisions will soon have access to informational “dashboards” of local pandemic metrics to help guide decisions about when it’s safe for students to return for in-person instruction, Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said Wednesday. Qarni and Prince William Health Department Director Dr. Alison Ansher said the state’s departments of health and education have been collaborating on the tool, which is envisioned to incorporate several health metrics and offer stoplight-like ratings of green, yellow and red based on local data.  Ansher said the dashboard could “be used for discussion” when making decisions about local schools and should be taken into consideration along with other factors, such as students’ educational needs. When asked why the state isn't already sharing such information to better inform decisions about starting the school year, Qarni said state officials only recently came up with the idea. 
Prince William Times

Charlottesville officials have nearly finalized regulations to move forward development proposals amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. At its meeting earlier this week, the City Council reviewed potential guidelines for community meetings and notifying landowners. Development applications that weren’t submitted before the coronavirus pandemic started moving through the review process earlier this summer. City officials recently started accepting other applications, but weren’t allowed to schedule public hearings or community meetings until parameters for those meetings were approved.
The Daily Progress

The Prince William County School Board will be taking “a range of responsive actions” after an independent review of Superintendent Steve Walts’ Twitter account, according to board Chair Babur Lateef. A citizen complaint first publicized in May questioned Walts’ use of the account @SuperPWCS, including private messages with students at late hours. Walts has said all use of the account was for official business.  According to the division, Walts conducted more than 2,000 private conversations through the Twitter account, including more than 20,000 messages, mostly with students. After the Board of County Supervisors voted to request 18 months worth of Walts’ messages, the school board hired the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth to investigate the complaints. The division then refused to release the messages, in part due to the investigation. During a four-hour closed session Wednesday, the board received a detailed briefing on the review of the school system’s policies and activities using social media messaging, and the board plans a public statement in the near future, according to Lateef's statement, released Thursday afternoon.
stories of national interest
"Maximum transparency concerning the [procurement] process, award criteria and award rationale might not always prevent second-guessing or even mistakes, but it will insulate against charges of favoritism or cronyism."
The news media is more interested in publishing stories than allowing a fair and thorough investigation, the Louisville (Kentucky) Metro Police Department argues in a new court filing seeking to block the release of records in the Breonna Taylor case. The Courier Journal sued Louisville police in May, demanding the immediate release of the department's investigative file into the fatal police shooting of Taylor, 26, on March 13. The newspaper's suit argues that the department's Public Integrity Unit investigation into the shooting — which has been turned over to both the Kentucky Attorney General's office and the FBI to consider whether to file criminal charges — is final and therefore should be released under the state's open records laws. "LMPD took action," said Michael Abate, an attorney for The Courier Journal. "They fired an officer based on the results of this investigation. They've clearly completed that investigation. … They can't hide behind the attorney general's slow time frame for making a decision to prevent the release of public documents."
The Courier Journal

The Trump administration has redacted the meeting minutes pertaining to its presidential transition activities, which are required by law, raising concerns from former officials and experts.  As the November election approaches, the Trump administration must adhere to various legal requirements to ensure a smooth and peaceful transition of power if the president is not reelected. Under the 2015 Presidential Transitions Improvement Act, which amended the 1963 Presidential Transition Act, the president must establish a White House coordinating committee and council of agency transition directors six months prior to the election. In its guidance in April on how agencies should be preparing, the Office of Management and Budget noted that the latter council would meet on May 27. On June 17, Government Executive submitted a request for the meeting minutes to OMB and the General Services Administration under the Freedom of Information Act and on Friday received a response from GSA that was almost entirely redacted (OMB acknowledged the request but did not respond). The text under sections titled “Key discussion items from the meeting” and “Key action items from the meeting” was completely blacked out.   
Government Executive

A federal judge in New York on Thursday ordered the unsealing of key documents from a settled civil lawsuit involving Ghislaine Maxwell and victims alleging sex abuse and trafficking by the late Jeffrey Epstein. Senior District Judge Loretta Preska ruled from the bench in a telephonic hearing that the public interest in the matter outweighed Maxwell’s claims that the documents, including depositions of central players in the Epstein saga, would prove embarrassing or interfere with ongoing legal matters.  Maxwell’s opposition to the push for unsealing, mounted by social media personality Mike Cernovich and the Miami Herald as it prepared to publish a series of articles on Epstein titled Perversion of Justice, had long preceded her arrest on July 2 at a secluded New Hampshire mansion on allegations that she helped shepherd women and underage girls to Epstein for sexual abuse. She has pleaded innocent but was denied bail in a July 14 hearing.
Miami Herald

The onset of COVID-19 has not only highlighted a critical shortage of ventilators, along with masks, gloves and other protective gear, but also has stress-tested government procurement processes that too often are slowed by outdated rules and regulations. In the midst of this global pandemic, the poor federal response to the needs of stressed health-care systems has left states and local governments to develop emergency procurement processes for the personal protective equipment (PPE) urgently needed for health-care and other essential workers. What has resulted has been a Wild West system of procurement as states had to bid against one another for resources and hospitals desperately resorted to extreme measures. With the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clearer than ever that the standard procurement procedures governments have been operating with need a transformation — and hopefully one that will permanently improve procurement protocols beyond the global health crisis. The stresses during the current emergency underline a few other principles for creating stronger, more agile procurement systems, including: Compensate with transparency. Much of the rationale for today's procurement codes developed before open-government systems and in the face of local abuses. Sunlight compensates for a great deal. Maximum transparency concerning the process, award criteria and award rationale might not always prevent second-guessing or even mistakes, but it will insulate against charges of favoritism or cronyism.