Transparency News, 7/29/21


July 29, 2021
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state & local news stories

A special prosecutor investigating Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney says authorities have found no evidence of public corruption in his administration’s awarding of a $1.8 million contract for the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments last year. About 11 months after the Richmond Circuit Court assigned him to the case, Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney Timothy Martin announced Wednesday that he will not seek charges against Stoney. The investigation centered on the city hiring NAH LLC for the job, and whether the no-bid contract was awarded to the company based on personal connections to one of the mayor’s political donors. The company, created 10 days before the work to remove the statues began last July, is linked to Team Henry Enterprises. Devon Henry, the owner of the Newport News-based contracting firm, has donated $4,000 to Stoney’s campaign and political action committee since 2016.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A $20.7 million defamation lawsuit filed by State Sen. Louise Lucas against Virginia Beach attorney and House of Delegates candidate Tim Anderson has been dismissed. In the suit, Lucas alleged that Anderson “knew … information he stated involving Lucas' involvement in Portsmouth's Confederate monument controversy was untrue at the time he stated it…” and that “these words harmed Senator Lucas’ reputation, by lowering her in the community’s estimation…” The judge pointed to the landmark Supreme Court case of New York Times v. Sullivan, which restricts the ability of American public officials to sue for defamation based on the First Amendment.

If you want to know who’s in the running to become Portsmouth’s next police chief, you’ll have to show up to a public event Thursday night. The city narrowed its search to four finalists who will answer questions at a community forum. But City Manager Angel Jones said she will not release their names until the event, which starts at 6 p.m. in I. C. Norcom High School’s auditorium. When The Virginian-Pilot asked why the city won’t identify the candidates, interim City Attorney Burle Stromberg cited an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act that gives public officials wide latitude to keep personnel information secret. The state’s law doesn’t prevent governmental bodies from releasing such information, but they can choose to withhold it. “Releasing the names of prospective employees is particularly sensitive, as many could be employed and not want their current employers to know they are applying elsewhere,” Stromberg wrote in an email. “It would cause a chilling effect on future applicants.”
The Virginian-Pilot

As both political parties flood supporters with desperate-sounding pleas for money to win the 2021 elections, an effort to study campaign finance reform in Virginia is off to a decidedly less urgent start. A joint General Assembly subcommittee approved in February to study whether Virginia needs stricter laws on money in politics still hasn’t held its first meeting. Almost all of the subcommittee’s 14 members were appointed over the last few months, but Gov. Ralph Northam hasn’t made an appointment for the one citizen seat his administration gets to fill. Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson said she expects the appointment to come soon but couldn’t give an estimated timeline. Northam called for campaign finance reform as a candidate in 2017, including banning corporate donations, but Democrats have yet to deliver the types of restrictions he said he supported. “You put all the big fish on the commission but these are people who you know have no interest in changing the system and complete interest in keeping it the same,” Josh Stanfield, a progressive activist who has advocated for campaign finance reform for years, said.
Virginia Mercury

editorials & opinion

Portsmouth will do something different — bold, even — Thursday night as it looks to hire a new chief of police. The four finalists for the position will appear at a public forum on Thursday to answer citizen questions, hearing the concerns of the people for whom the selected candidate will serve. It is a welcome change to the common approach in these situations. Ordinarily when a community needs to hire a top administrator — a city manager, for instance, or a police chief — the proceedings unfold in secret. The vacancy is advertised and applications welcomed. The candidates are reviewed and some are invited for interviews behind closed doors with elected officials. Then, once a finalist wins majority support, a contract is offered and the new hire is presented to the community. Most of this happens well outside of public view, the entire process shrouded in secrecy. Officials will often lament that confidentiality is the only way to attract high-quality candidates, that the best and brightest will be scared off by publicity. In holding a public forum for its police chief candidates, Portsmouth will help whomever City Manager Angel Jones selects to forge a bond of trust at the outset. By asking the finalists to answer questions, listen to community concerns and explain their law enforcement philosophy in advance of starting, it puts them on the front foot in establishing a relationship with the public.
The Virginian-Pilot