Transparency News 7/29/19



July 29, 2019


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state & local news stories


A Circuit Court judge on Thursday afternoon put a 60-day hold on the condemnation of the Portsmouth City Jail, preventing the city from shutting down the facility during that time. In making his ruling, Judge Johnny Morrison said he was giving the sheriff and the city 60 days to “sit down and communicate” about the jail’s future. He raised concern about the lack of communication from the city before condemnation signs were posted on Civic Center buildings Wednesday afternoon, noting that the sheriff and police chief weren’t notified in advance. During the hearing, Robert Merhige III, special assistant city attorney, acknowledged there was a breakdown in communication.
The Virginian-Pilot

Two former staffers at The Virginian-Pilot have teamed up to launch a nonprofit investigative newsroom that plans to partner with media outlets and universities around the state to produce in-depth local reporting. The Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism aims to post its first story within the next month and hopes to begin publishing on a routine basis by the end of September, said Chris Tyree, the fledgling organization’s executive editor and cofounder. “It’s not going to be a daily report,” said Tyree, who worked as a photographer at the Pilot and, more recently, as a documentary filmmaker. “We have newspapers doing that. We’re going to be taking things deeper. And some of our projects will take a lot of time to do.”
Virginia Mercury

Charlottesville officials charged more than $480,000 to city credit cards in the first half of 2019. Of those expenses, nearly $10,000 has been on apparel for employees this year. The information is based on credit card statements for cards registered to specific city employees and departments obtained by The Daily Progress under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The Progress has obtained statements for department heads from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 27, 2019. For the City Council and council staff, the newspaper has statements from June 28, 2017, through June 27, 2019. On Friday, The Progress received statements for credit cards in all city departments.
The Daily Progress

A local man’s lawsuit against Berryville Mayor Patricia Dickinson has been continued in Clarke County General District Court. Brian McClemens believes Dickinson violated his free speech rights by hiding comments he made on a Facebook page Dickinson uses in her official capacity as mayor. His comments, about a new McDonald’s restaurant in Berryville, have since reappeared on the page. Earlier this month, McClemens filed a small claims civil action in general district court seeking $1 in damages from Dickinson $1, plus $54 in court costs. He has said that by taking her to court, he hopes to establish evidence that Dickinson acted inappropriately in relation to her office so he can start a petition seeking a recall measure on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The Winchester Star


stories of national interest

Some hackers demand ransom; others sweep up personal data for sale to identity thieves. But whatever hackers’ motives, school systems around the country have been the targets of their cyberattacks. One attack forced the Houston County School District in Dothan, Ala., to delay the first day of school for 6,400 students. Others crippled computer systems at the Syracuse City School District in upstate New York and at three school districts in Louisiana. Many public institutions, including hospitals, local governmentsand colleges, have been hit with ransomware attacks in recent years, but school districts have proved particularly enticing to hackers because they hold troves of private data and often lack the resources to fend off intruders.
The New York Times

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post over its coverage of an interaction between a Kentucky high school student and a Native American activist on the National Mall, which gained national attention after the video went viral. Judge William O. Bertelsman dismissed the suit, stating that the Post's coverage was protected as free speech and rejecting Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann's argument that the newspaper implied inaccurately that Sandmann had behaved in a menacing or violent way. The Post had quoted the activist, a veteran named Nathan Phillips, who said Sandmann stood in his way to get to the Lincoln Memorial in the Jan 19 incident. Bertelsman wrote that though Phillips' claim may have been inaccurate, the Post had a right to publish it. The Post couldn't be sued for defamation simply if some of its reporting was inaccurate, he wrote, rather it had to both false and defamatory.




editorials & columns


Black leaders in northern Virginia found out that Gov. Ralph S. Northam (D) was going to hold what his office termed as a “community roundtable” in Prince William County last week as part of an “honest dialogue around confronting systemic issues of race and equity that persist to this day.” We heard that this meeting was an “invitation only” affair and that several of his most vocal critics in the black community in northern Virginia had not been invited. We learned later that some critics subsequently were invited. We understand that the governor has held several similar roundtables in other parts of the commonwealth, although no reports on the results of those discussions have been made available. What we do know is that these meetings were not publicly announced, were closed to the general public and no results of the questions asked, answers provided and pledges made have been reported in any detail. Behind closed doors in controlled environments is not engagement; it’s a whitewash.
Phillip E. Thompson, Richmond Free Press