Transparency News, 7/29/20


July 29, 2020
There was no issue of Access News yesterday, July 28.
state & local news stories
“The internet trolls, who look for things like that, certainly would have the ability to have a field day with that.”

A new bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly this year aimed to add transparency to the state’s execution process by declassifying the sources of its lethal injection drugs. But the Virginia Department of Corrections recently denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury for the names of its suppliers over the last decade, noting that the new law doesn’t apply to contracts that were already signed by the state. “Specifically, the 2020 amendment provides that the identity of an outsourcing facility ‘that enters into a contract’ is no longer confidential or exempt from the Freedom of Information Act,” wrote Ryan McCord, the department’s legal compliance manager, in a response letter last week. “The General Assembly expressly chose the word ‘enters,’ rather than ‘entered into,’ or ‘has entered into,’ indicating that the law does not apply to contracts executed prior to the statutory amendment.” Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who introduced the bill during the 2020 session, said Monday that the department’s interpretation aligned with his own intentions for the bill.
Virginia Mercury

Albemarle County will have to replace three members of its Economic Development Authority (EDA), including the chairman, after sudden resignations on July 21 in protest of a new financial disclosure mandate. The mandate was adopted as a result of a multi-million dollar embezzlement scandal in Warren County uncovered in 2019. A new law passed unanimously in the General Assembly earlier this year mandates that all members of similar authorities state-wide file a statement of economic interest every year. The deadline for the first statement is August 1. That led Authority Chair W. Rod Gentry, and members David Mellon and James Atkinson to resign from the board at this month’s meeting, pushing back on the new mandate’s necessity. Information being accessible to the public through the Freedom of Information Act, gave Gentry serious pause. “The internet trolls, who look for things like that, certainly would have the ability to have a field day with that,” he said.

A spokesperson for Blue Ridge Therapy Connection in Patrick County confirmed that people there have tested positive for the coronavirus, but said she does not know how many. Stephanie Shelton is the Regional Director of Business Development for Hill Valley Healthcare, which owns both Blue Ridge Therapy Connection, a skilled nursing facility, and The Landmark Center, an assisted living facility next door to it. There have not been any coronavirus cases diagnosed at The Landmark Center, she said, but “we do have cases at Blue Ridge” but “don’t have the exact number.” If a resident of Blue Ridge is given a positive diagnosis when he or she is somewhere other than at Blue Ridge, such as in the hospital, Blue Ridge is not given those results, she said. Thus, she said, “the health department will have the most accurate number of cases as we report to them” and hospitals do as well. “As a patient leaves and tests positive, those labs don’t have to call us to tell us that a patient was positive,” she said. The outbreak in Patrick County “is all related to the long-term care facility,” said Virginia Department of Health spokesperson Nancy Bell. The VDH does not identify exact locations of people who have COVID-19.
Martinsville Bulletin

Newly-released documents reveal details about arrests of students in Richmond schools. Obtained by VPM through a public records request, the documents paint a picture of the types of incidents that result in assault charges filed against students. If convicted by a judge, these charges could stay on the young person’s record until the age of 29. That means a fight at school as a 14-year-old could have far-reaching effects on the student’s life 15 years later.  “Even if you can get into college or law school with a criminal record, you may not be able to get licensed,” said Julie McConnell, director of the Children’s Defense Clinic at the University of Richmond. Below are excerpts from public records VPM obtained that show four specific examples of altercations that resulted in criminal charges categorized as simple assault. 

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has filed an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond after his $400 million libel suit against CBS was thrown out in February. Fairfax “continues to hold CBS accountable for recklessly airing and refusing to correct false, fabricated and politically motivated sexual assault allegations,” a July 28 statement from Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke said.

Stephanie Morales and Anton Bell, the Portsmouth and Hampton commonwealth’s attorneys, respectively, said on a recent call with state senators that they supported making all police records available to prosecutors’ offices, including personnel and use-of-force reports. “We want to be preventative instead of being in a position where we have to respond only after that information is released to us because something dramatic has now happened to our community,” Bell said. When asked about amending the state’s Freedom of Information Act to require police departments release such records to the public — rather than allow localities to exempt themselves from that law, which is the current practice — Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said that was something his caucus had discussed and determined couldn’t be addressed during the August special session. “We were concerned about the complexity of it overwhelming a special session,” he said. “Opening up (the records) to the whole world is a little bit more complicated.”
Daily Press

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk has released a new website that serves as a one-stop-shop for all previous and future law enforcement data public by Fairfax County. Lusk, who is also the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisor’s Public Safety Committee, said the project was launched in response to residents’ requests for clear and detailed data from the Fairfax County Police Department. The website aggregates all public safety data into one location, including FCPD’s annual report, reports by the police auditor, arrest and traffic citation dates for 2019, and other resources.

After receiving a closed-door briefing on the results of an independent review of Superintendent Steve Walts’ use of his Twitter account, the Prince William County School Board will meet for Walts’ annual evaluation on Tuesday. The board scheduled a special meeting to discuss Walts’ annual evaluation in closed session at 4 p.m. July 28. His employment contract currently expires June 2021. The evaluation will be conducted in closed session, but any action, such as extending or declining to extend Walts’ employment contract, must be made in public. The board actions following the review are expected to include an assessment of current policies, procedures and training regarding official use of social media platforms.

With an otherwise brief agenda for Monday’s Town Council meeting, Mayor Eugene Tewalt sparred with council members over how long Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick was allowed to talk.During his report to the council, Tederick expressed umbrage with statements mayoral candidate Mike McCool made during during a July 13 public comment period. Tewalt’s attempts to cut Tederick short were unsuccessful due to the intervention of council members. In attempting to halt Tederick’s comments, Tewalt cited the fact that council members earlier in the meeting attempted to interrupt resident Paul Gabbert as he criticized the town. Tewalt said that guidelines for citizens should mirror those enforced upon Tederick.
The Northern Virginia Daily