Transparency News, 7/27/2022


July 27, 2022

There was no newsletter yesterday, July 26.


state & local news stories

"State law governing conflicts of interest explicitly states that campaign contributions should not be considered as creating a conflict of interest when officials consider legislation."

New information obtained through public record requests sheds more light on the process by which a zoning text amendmentconcerning data centers was initiated by the Warrenton Town Council in April 2021 and passed unanimously in August 2021 after public hearings. By approving the amendment, the council gave itself the option of considering applications to build data centers on industrial-zoned properties on a case-by-case basis. The text amendment does not allow data centers by-right, and the process to obtain a special-use permit includes a public-hearing requirement.
Fauquier Times

As the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors prepares to vote on a multi-million dollar tax break for a proposed waterpark and hotel complex, campaign finance records reveal that board chair Chris Winslow received thousands of dollars in campaign funds from the developer behind the project. Chris Winslow has championed the project over the past few years, speaking in favor of the project at a board meeting in June 2021 and voting to approve a conditional use permit allowing construction to move forward. Meeting minutes record Winslow as touting the benefits the project would bring to the county tax base, which could benefit schools and public safety. Winslow did not exclude himself from the vote to approve the conditional use permit in 2021 - nor did he have any legal obligation to. The state law governing conflicts of interest explicitly states that campaign contributions should not be considered as creating a conflict of interest when officials consider legislation.

Clarke County Public Schools has initiated a Title IX investigation into specific complaints about matters involving the girls' soccer program at Clarke County High School, Superintendent Chuck Bishop confirmed on Tuesday. Title IX refers to legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school that receives funding from the federal government. At a Clarke County School Board meeting Monday night, the investigation came to light amid statements made by a member of the soccer team and her father. They spoke during time allotted for public comments about school matters not on the board's agenda for discussion.
The Winchester Star

stories of national interest

A federal judge agreed on Monday to block for now any enforcement of a state law in a political ad investigation of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s campaign, saying it’s likely to win on legal claims that the law is unconstitutional. The temporary restraining order that Eagles signed means that Freeman’s office is prevented from using that law to prosecute anyone associated with a 2020 commercial that the Democratic incumbent aired against then-Republican challenger Jim O’Neill. The law prohibits anyone from knowingly publishing or circulating false information about a candidate with the intent of hurting that candidate’s chances in the election. It enabled an ongoing investigation into the Stein commercial, which focused on untested rape kits held by local law enforcement agencies.
The Virginian-Pilot

The slot machine tax reduction offered to New York’s casinos after COVID cut into their business appears to be working out well for them. All four casinos not owned by Indian nations saw big jumps in the gross revenue from gamblers and in the net gaming revenue left after paying gamblers their winnings. But even with this increase in gross and net revenue, three of the four saw their tax bills shrink. n Schenectady, Rivers Casino and Resort — which had been paying the highest slot tax rate among the four — saw its tax rate drop from 45% to 30%. After the fiscal year ended, on May 4, 2022, The Daily Gazette submitted a Freedom Of Information Law request to the New York State Gaming Commission for documents explaining Rivers’ request for a slot machine tax cut and the commission’s decision to grant it. The commission extended its timetable for the FOIL response three times over the next two months. On July 22, it provided copies of four communications between the commission and casino in the spring of 2021 that contained zero information or detail. The commission said it was still reviewing other records for possible future release under FOIL.
The Daily Gazette

editorials & columns

"The law is the law, and officials only invite more scrutiny when they don’t comply with its every letter."

A retraction doesn’t necessarily amount to true contrition. So it remains unclear whether the Richmond Police Department learned anything from June 1, 2020. That was the day police teargassed peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee monument, then offered shifting explanations that did not hold up under scrutiny. Mayor Levar Stoney, in a piece in The New York Times, called the gassing unintentional. But the RPD, as part of a settlement with six demonstrators after losing a federal court case, recently released videos of that evening at the Lee statue and the statue of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart a block away. The videos seem to contradict some of the reports made by officers, according to Eric Kolenich’s story in Tuesday’s Times-Dispatch. Police forthrightness and transparency in Richmond and elsewhere remain an issue. “What is police doing about the dishonesty in these reports?” Andrew Bodoh, a lawyer with the firm who represents the demonstrators, asked Monday. And now, police and the mayor are being cagey about the details surrounding the alleged thwarting of a mass shooting on July 4 at Dogwood Dell.
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Details matter. It’s especially true of good, transparent government that builds trust with the citizenry. A flurry of recent headlines from Isle of Wight and Surry counties should remind public officials of the need to cross every “t” and dot every “i” when conducting the taxpayers’ business, like.... Officials in both counties are quick to blame agenda-driven malcontents for nitpicking unimportant details. When it comes to good, honest, transparent government, however, the motives of your critics shouldn’t matter. The law is the law, and officials only invite more scrutiny when they don’t comply with its every letter. It’s time for public officials in both counties to tighten up.
The Smithfield Times