Transparency News, 7/30/20


July 30, 2020
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state & local news stories
A former Virginia State Police helicopter maintenance technician was ordered to pay a $100 assessment but was given no additional punishment Wednesday for falsifying a maintenance log last year. Michael W. Smith, 55, of Chester, pleaded guilty to the felony charge of “making a false writing or document” last December. He admitted falsely attesting in a maintenance log book in April 2019 that he had properly tested the tension of a belt on a helicopter air conditioning system. No mishap resulted, but failing to perform the test in question could potentially have resulted in a crash, authorities said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Prince William County School Board hired an outside law firm Tuesday to defend Superintendent Steve Walts in a lawsuit filed by former school board Chair Ryan Sawyers. Sawyers filed the suit against Walts and the school board July 13, according to county court records. Sawyers is alleging that Walts made defamatory comments in a since-deleted social media video that Walts posted May 7 in defense of his Twitter use. Sawyers is seeking more than $2.35 million, claiming Walts’ comments “subjected him to underserved scorn, embarrassment, humiliation and contumely as a resident of Prince William County.” Sawyers asked for damages in his complaint, arguing “Walts’ false and defamatory statements damaged Sawyers’ personal and professional reputation by alleging conduct that is reprehensible to him as a former school board chairman, businessperson, coach and father,” according to the complaint. 
During a January work session, Leesburg Town Council discussed the possibility of imposing term limits on the mayor and individual council members in the future, a topic that returned during another work session Monday.  Per Article II, Section 5 of the Virginia Constitution, the only qualification for holding public office in Virginia "shall be that a person must have been a resident of the Commonwealth for one year next preceding his election and be qualified to vote for that office, except as otherwise provided in this Constitution." However, several staff contacts, including Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel, said imposing term limits on local elected officials is a laborious process that would take at least two years. "If you're going to ask the General Assembly to consider that, you need someone who really has a strong presence and who can really carry the bill through," Virginia Municipal League Executive Director Michelle Gowdy said.
Loudoun Times-Mirror
NOTE: The article says January, but the agenda for the July 27 meeting includes the item and speaker mentioned in the article, plus both people in the photo have face coverings.
stories of national interest
More than a month into a resurgence of the novel coronavirus that has besieged Sun Belt states, flooded hospitals and strained public-health infrastructure, the U.S. still lacks a complete picture of the on-the-ground reality. That’s no surprise to public-health experts following the country’s response, since the U.S. doesn’t have an accessible, real-time system to track the virus’s spread. At times, even the federal government has had to rely on third-party databases. The gap is due to decades of neglect of technological infrastructure, exacerbated by the country’s sprawling size and a state-by-state approach to collecting public health data. It has left not only government officials hunting for reliable data, but kept the public in the dark as well.

After weeks of pushing off requests to release complete coroner reports for those who died with covid-19, Garland County (Arkansas) officials have requested an attorney general's opinion on whether those records must be made public. The move by Garland County attorney John Howard and Coroner Stuart Smedley is among several actions by officials to keep parts of death reports private. Legal experts say these records should be open under state law and are key to the public's understanding of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 40,000 Arkansans and killed more than 400. The Democrat-Gazette has requested death reports from dozens of counties since the state announced its first coronavirus death in March. So far, coroners across the state have turned over more than 300 reports. At least four county coroners have provided redacted records. Benton, Sebastian and Washington counties have redacted the next of kin and other limited information. Garland County's coroner redacted much of his reports' data, including the deceased's name, age, city of residence and large portions of the narrative.
Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Louisville city officials must turn over all secure police radio conversations before, during and after a March raid that led to the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a judge ruled Wednesday. The lawyer for Taylor’s family had argued there has been “confusion” about which police officers took part in the raid and whether police bodycam footage of the operation exists, Louisville FOX affiliate WDRB-TV reported. Scrutiny of the police radio conversations could help clarify details of the case, attorney Sam Aguiar told Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman, the report said. Aguiar claimed in court filings that the names of some officers assigned to the raid have not been confirmed by city officials. He added that his office believes it knows the identities of those officers and some are known to use body cameras, WDRB reported. Lawyers for the city countered that Aguiar’s request represented a “fishing expedition.”
Fox News