Transparency News, 8/11/20


August 11, 2020
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state & local news stories
"[The city's attorney] attributed the recent meeting issues to Winchester’s Innovation and Information Services Department — commonly referred to as Information Technology, or I.T."
In the wake of a Virginia government watchdog report that says the Virginia Parole Board violated the law and its own policies in releasing a man sentenced to life for killing a Richmond police officer, a state senator has filed a bill for the upcoming special session that would require the individual votes of the parole board be made public. The legislation, filed last week as an unredacted copy of the Office of the State Inspector General’s report of the parole board was released after initially being withheld from the public, is one of several measures that senior Republican lawmakers said may be forthcoming in an effort to increase transparency of parole board decisions. Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, filed SB 5012, which would require the individual votes of the parole board to be a public record and subject to the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Suetterlein compared making individual parole board votes public with the rulings of state judges, who decide the guilt or innocence of defendants in open court and whose orders become part of the public record.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two Virginia journalism groups are urging the Newport News City Council to begin recording and broadcasting its work sessions, a topic that’s been simmering among members of the council. Newport News is the only Hampton Roads city or Peninsula locality, including Gloucester and Isle of Wight counties, that does not post video recordings of work sessions. Most localities in the region broadcast their work sessions live, either online or on a public-access television channel. Mayor McKinley Price opposed recording or broadcasting the work sessions in November and said he doesn’t feel differently now. “I think any time there’s a camera in front of a person, there’s an effect,” he said, saying that a person may become more guarded. Other council members and City Manager Cindy Rohlf have echoed that sentiment and said adding cameras to the meetings would inhibit discussion.
Daily Press

It was June 9. George Floyd had been dead 15 days. Protests were erupting across the country and in Norfolk, with people demanding police reform. And so city leaders promised to be more transparent about how Norfolk officers police the city. Until Monday — more than two months later — they had failed to keep even the most modest of those pledges of increased openness: making public some policy documents. They were put on the city website Monday afternoon, only after The Virginian-Pilot posted a version of this story online. More complicated reforms, like creating citizen oversight of the Norfolk Police Department, are still being talked about. At a June meeting, City Council members ordered staff to post the Norfolk Police Department’s policy and procedures manual and its general and special orders, the sets of documents that were posted Monday. The council also ordered the police department to update its annual reports on a regular basis. That hasn’t happened. Just as in early June, the most recent one online is from 2017.
The Virginian-Pilot

The person who filed a petition challenging the openness of Winchester’s City Council meetings agreed on Monday to drop the case after the city’s attorney acknowledged that mistakes were made. “We were doing it wrong,” Melissa G. Michelsen, an attorney with the law firm Litten and Sipe who represents Winchester’s legal interests, told Judge Amy B. Tisinger during a hearing Monday afternoon in Winchester General District Court. “Mistakes were made.” The case against the city was filed last week by Danielle Bostick, Winchester’s Republican candidate for mayor this fall. “We have not lived up to the full spirit” of Virginia’s FOIA regulations, Michelsen admitted in court. But the city took measures to correct the mistakes prior to Monday’s hearing. Starting with tonight’s City Council meeting and work session, citizens will now be able to address the panel directly during its virtual meetings, and officials have vowed that all open meetings conducted before and after closed sessions will be shared with the public. Michelsen attributed the recent meeting issues to Winchester’s Innovation and Information Services Department — commonly referred to as Information Technology, or I.T.
The Winchester Star