Transparency News, 8/11/2022



August 11, 2022

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state & local news stories


"...photographs that purportedly depict the improper disposal of these documents — including the documents being left unattended on a loading dock and not being completely destroyed while burning, as prescribed by law."

South Hill Town Council member Ben Taylor resigned his seat Monday night during a heated council meeting that started 50 minutes late and included a call by Taylor to investigate trespass charges against fellow Council member Shep Moss. Council rejected Taylor’s motion to refer a trespassing complaint against Moss to law enforcement for possible prosecution, but a majority of members did approve a separate motion by Taylor to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain information on how Moss came in possession of photos and information that he has presented in recent months. Moss says the photos provide proof that Town Hall has improperly disposed of official documents. The disagreement over the disposal of town documents has been ongoing for several months. In a past meeting, Moss brought to Council’s attention a number of photographs that purportedly depict the improper disposal of these documents — including the documents being left unattended on a loading dock and not being completely destroyed while burning, as prescribed by law. Moss has declined to reveal the source of the information.
Mecklenburg Sun

The Virginia Beach school system updated its regulation for the review and challenge of instructional materials by parents Tuesday to clarify that library books can be challenged. Chairwoman Carolyn Rye, who did not attend the informal and workshop session due to travel, issued a written statement for Vice Chair Kimberly Melnyk to read. In it, she asked the board members to remain civil as they prepare for the November election. Also discussed in Tuesday’s meeting was the bylaw on public comment. A drafted update presented to the board would limit public participation so that comment on topics not on the meeting’s agenda would be heard at the end of the meeting. These non-agenda items would also be limited to 30 minutes or 10 people.
The Virginian-Pilot

Three Nigerian citizens were extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States in connection to a multi-million dollar cyber scheme involving multiple institutions, including Virginia Commonwealth University. According to a press release by the FBI Wednesday, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia were among the states implicated in the fraud scheme. This type of crime is known as “cyber-enabled financial fraud.” The documents detail that VCU transferred nearly half a million dollars from their bank account to Bank of Hope for a group of Nigerian scammers posing as an employee of the real construction company Kjellstrom and Lee, with whom VCU had an ongoing contract. The scammers made their first contact with the university in September of 2018, posing as an employee of the company and using an email address similar to the company name under the alias “Rachel Moore.” The documents detail that Moore advised the procurement department that an employee that the bank on file with the construction company was being audited and asked if the next payment could be made to an overseas account.

Concerns over items discussed during closed meetings being leaked to the public prompted the Gloucester County School Board this week to consider a change in policy to clarify that recording such encounters is prohibited. During Tuesday’s meeting, which was held in the T.C. Walker Education Center Auditorium, the policy was approved on a first reading by a 4-3 margin. A second reading is required before the change is codified. “I would like to know what is the genesis of all of this, Mrs. Rice,” school board member Darren Post asked fellow member Robin Rice, who had proposed the policy change. “There has been information from our closed sessions leaked and shared with those members of our community outside of our board,” said Rice. “And so, in order to protect the confidentiality of both our staff and our students that has been entrusted to us, we need to put steps in place to protect it in the future.”
Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal

stories of national interest

"A Denver lawyer says the law prevents her and others from speaking out about government misfeasance and malfeasance without fear of prosecution."

A Colorado statute that criminalizes the public disclosure of all child abuse and neglect records violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held Tuesday. The federal appeals court ruled in a case brought by Denver lawyer Jessica Peck, who says the law prevents her and others from speaking out about government misfeasance and malfeasance without fear of prosecution. In 2019, she sued Denver District Attorney Beth McCann and Michelle Barnes, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services. The ruling says Peck’s free speech “is indisputably chilled” by § 19-1-307(4), part of a state statute that is intended to protect the privacy of children, families and informants in child abuse and neglect cases. The judges upheld a subsection of the statute that imposes penalties on those who improperly disclose confidential information “identifying” children, families or informants in child abuse and neglect reports. But they struck down as unconstitutional subsection four, described as “broader, punishing the disclosure of both identifying and non-identifying information” with a class 2 misdemeanor.
Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition

A federal advisory committee is recommending Congress give a small office at the National Archives and Records Administration the ability to issue binding decisions over Freedom of Information Act request disputes. Proponents of the recommendation say it will help improve FOIA at a time when public records requests backlogs and denials are on the rise. But the idea also faces pushback, including from the office’s director. With just 10 employees and an annual budget of less than $2 million, the Office of Government Information Services, or OGIS, is charged with mediating disputes between the public and agencies over FOIA requests. OGIS reported that it handled approximately 4,200 requests for assistance from both requesters and agencies in fiscal 2021.
Federal News Network