Transparency News 7/26/19



July 26, 2019


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state & local news stories


“Whether the change is positive, negative, or neutral, it deserves an open airing in the public as we do other policies and not foisted on the public or the board.” -- Rodney Jordan, Norfolk School Board

Those wanting to share thoughts with the Norfolk School Board will have to wait now. The board used to hear from the public near the start of its meetings. Going forward, only speakers who want to talk about topics on the agenda will be heard at the beginning of the night. People coming to share other concerns will have to wait until the end. Chairwoman Noelle Gabriel said the change — which was not publicly debated and which two board members said they learned about at the same time as the public — was so “we can get through the work of the board a little bit earlier.” Virginia Beach has a similar policy. Two board members, Christine Smith and Rodney Jordan, said they learned about the change to public comment when they received the agenda for July 17’s meeting along with the public. Jordan said he thought it was a typo at first and believes the board should have discussed what amounts to a change in its policies on public participation. “I find the change made with no public discussion of the full board in an open meeting as a contradiction to open, transparent government,” Jordan said. “Whether the change is positive, negative, or neutral, it deserves an open airing in the public as we do other policies and not foisted on the public or the board.”
The Virginian-Pilot

Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore went to court Thursday, asking a judge to reverse the city's condemnation of the jail, which the city manager said this week is unfit for human habitation. In the final minutes of a council work session Tuesday, City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton told the City Council that the jail is not safe and must be evacuated immediately. The announcement came as a shock to Moore, who said he didn’t know Pettis Patton would be making such an announcement. Waters said the action was “forced upon” the sheriff’s office, with virtually no communication from the city. The move follows a set of studies carried out by contractors who, at the request of the City Council earlier this year, spent months examining the quality of the jail’s building, including its structural integrity, environmental safety and mechanical components. Pettis Patton and a city spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests Wednesday for copies of the reports, but The Virginian-Pilot obtained them after they were attached to the sheriff’s court filing.
The Virginian-Pilot

Richmond City Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell registered her protest against new restrictions on City Council members directly contacting city administrative staff by publicly announcing the cell phone numbers of Mayor Levar M. Stoney and other top officials. The 8th District representative has chafed under restrictions Mayor Stoney and Selena Cuffee-Glenn, the city’s chief administrative officer, have placed on council members’ ability to talk with city officials outside of meetings. Council members have been directed to post all requests they receive from constituents for city services on RVA311 or to filter those and other requests for information through Ms. Cuffee-Glenn’s office. Directors and departmental staff have been barred from having direct communications with council members, which is typically done by phone, email or text messages. However, some officials, including Police Chief Will Smith, continue to receive and respond to messages from council members. Neither Mayor Stoney nor Ms. Cuffee-Glenn has responded to requests for comment about the protocol change.
Richmond Free Press


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"[We] advise the board to tread carefully before adopting this policy."

Robert Flood is a man who’s passionate about the role that education, public schools and parents hold in shaping a child’s future. He’s also a man who believes in second chances, in redemption if you will, for folks who’ve made a mistake or two in the past but who’ve paid their debts to society. Put the two together and that’s why, for more than two years, he’s been speaking out about Lynchburg City Schools’ in-school volunteer policy, which bans people who have felony convictions from serving as volunteers. For more meetings of the Lynchburg City School Board than you can count, Flood has made a point of speaking out on the issue during the board’s 30 minutes set aside on its agenda for public comments. And now, the board is moving to shut him up. It’s a move board members are considering in the name of efficiency, prioritizing and time management. But we believe there are more important issues at play here and advise the board to tread carefully before adopting this policy.
The News & Advance

I like privacy as much as the next person. I don’t want anybody tapping my phone or peeking through my windows. I’m even irked that whenever I go online to shop for, say, chainsaws or hiking boots, every other web site I go to afterward reminds me of my interest in these products. But as an advocate for open government, I am troubled by the extent to which public officials are using privacy in order to shut down access to public information. They say it’s necessary because the public can’t be trusted not to do horrible things. 
Bill Lueders, Door County Daily News