Transparency News, 8/1/2022


August 1, 2022

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state & local news stories


Over the past several years, many decisions among the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors have broken down along clear voting blocs. While some officials and residents say these split decisions are healthy for a functioning democracy, others say it's a result of divisiveness that began in 2016 following changes in county leadership. Some decisions that ended in a split vote became hot-button cultural topics across the county, like a resolution to make Rappahannock County a Second Amendment sanctuary, a proposal for a trail to connect both of the public schools, and most recently, a decision to expand broadband in the county. There are other issues that have resulted in split decisions and spirited debates that don’t receive the same buzz on social media and email listservs, like numerous planning and zoning applications, appointments and nominations to public bodies and other procedural votes. Since 2017, there have been 63 split votes taken on the five-member Board of Supervisors, with the most 3-2 decisions happening in 2018, tallying 22, according to a Rappahannock News analysis of meeting minutes. In 2017 there was one split vote, 15 in 2019, nine in 2020, 14 in 2021, and two so far in 2022.
Rappahannock News

stories of national interest

At a Portland, Ore., City Council meeting a decade ago, a local environmental activist concluded his remarks by dumping a load of garbage he’d collected onto the floor of the council chambers. Whatever the impact this stunt had on council members, it immediately moved Aaron Landsman, an out-of-town artist who was in the audience by chance. It suggested to him a trove of untapped theatrical potential lurking beneath the tedium of local government meetings. Landsman began attending similar meetings across the country, and along with collaborators Mallory Catlett and Jim Findlay, he would spend the next several years developing and presenting a participatory performance work that the trio called City Council Meeting. It was an effort to make art with communities, and in doing so to investigate how creativity and rigorous inquiry could lead to a more complete and nuanced look at the structures of local government. Now Landsman and Catlett have turned their experience and related research into a book, The City We Make Together: City Council Meeting’s Primer for Participation, and they are developing a companion curriculum that they hope will take their concept into schools across the country.

editorials & columns


Though Virginia lawmakers adjourned this year’s session in early March, some of the legislature’s more consequential decisions — regarding such hot button issues as marijuana legalization and early release for nonviolent offenders — were negotiated months later, out of public view, as part of negotiations over the two-year state budget. This isn’t the first time that’s happened, but it’s also not how state government is supposed to do the people’s business. Virginians expect the legislative process to be open and accountable, and for lawmakers to honor the need for transparency when making decisions affecting the commonwealth. If Virginia’s cap on its legislative calendar no longer meets the needs of a modern commonwealth, we should have that discussion. But expediency rarely makes for good policy, and dropping major changes into a budget bill is a habit that must be broken.
The Virginian-Pilot

When COVID-19 swept across Virginia in 2020, there was little question that to keep people safe, state and local government had to turn to virtual settings to conduct public meetings. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex and other videoconferencing platforms quickly replaced physical rooms at buildings across the commonwealth. As Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, noted in June 2021, the decision to employ this technology actually enhanced public participation in two ways. Meetings were broadcast live and made available as on-demand videos via platforms such as Facebook and YouTube; and comments were accepted via phone, email or in writing. But Rhyne also identified a trade-off: There was a “diminished quality of the deliberative process and compromised interactions among members and the public,” she wrote. To bridge our differences, we have to bring back the in-person moments. Submitting a question in writing, reading the response in writing or watching a prerecorded video might answer a voter’s question. But getting in a real room together still is the best way to create clarity and build relationships.
Richmond Times-Dispatch