Transparency News 8/12/19



August 12, 2019


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state & local news stories


"So, while taxpayer money covers almost $570,000 in annual insurance premiums for Franklin County . . . officials may withhold the answer to a central question: How much is the payout?"

There was no issue of Access News Friday, Aug. 9.

Four months after attorneys settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against Franklin County and its former top building official, the payout amount remains secret. No records of the amount were filed in court. No records of the amount are in the possession of Franklin County, according to its contracted lawyer. The county’s private risk pool insurer, which is tasked with writing the check for Franklin in such cases, isn’t subject to state open records laws. So, while taxpayer money covers almost $570,000 in annual insurance premiums for Franklin County, and taxpayer money that’s fed into the insurance pool by local governments covers the cost of settlements in cases like this one, officials may withhold the answer to a central question: How much is the payout?
The Roanoke Times

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras will not receive the $25,000 bonus he is eligible for as part of his contract -- money he's opted against receiving until every school in the city is accredited. Whether or not the second-year superintendent was even set to receive the bonus after his performance evaluation last month, though, is unclear. The School Board held its review of Kamras in a series of closed session meetings this summer, debating the job Kamras has done as chief first as a group and then with Kamras last month. The school district denied a Freedom of Information Act request this week seeking a copy of the School Board's evaluation of Kamras, citing an exemption to the law for personnel records. The district denied a similar request last year. Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said it's common for public bodies to withhold the evaluations - but that doesn't mean they should. "It's not just the person's personnel file, it's the work of the board," she said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Nearly two years after the deadly Unite the Right rally, Virginia State Police have been spurred to release their operations plan by a lawsuit. However, the plaintiffs feel the redactions are over-broad. In a filing last month, reporter Natalie Jacobsen, by counsel, argued that the submitted plan violated FOIA guidelines and did not meet Judge Richard E. Moore’s order of disclosure. “Instead of utilizing the typical redaction practice of blacking out withheld portions, Respondents — for no stated or apparent reason — whited out sections and, in some cases, entire pages of the Operations Plan, making it unnecessarily difficult to discern where and to what extent material has been withheld,” the filing reads.
The Daily Progress

The University of Virginia disclosed Friday that some student-athletes were apparently recruited several years ago because of the possibility that their admission would result in financial donations to the school. The disclosure, in a statement from UVA, suggested that fundraising goals might have compromised the sensitive process of athletic recruiting and admissions at the prestigious public university.  The university also said that in a few cases, recruited athletes who enrolled did not participate on their designated teams, for reasons that were unclear. UVA said it uncovered the problems through an internal review of its athletic recruiting, prompted by the national admissions-bribery scandal that emerged this year at other prominent universities. UVA declined to make senior officials available for interviews about the revelations. It cited student privacy in refusing to discuss specific cases.
The Washington Post


stories of national interest

A federal judge on Friday rejected a request to fast track a review of Robert Mueller’s records for potential public release. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton sided with Justice Department lawyers who were asking him to stick to the normal schedule for Freedom of Information Act cases as he considers a lawsuit seeking a variety of underlying records tied to the now-concluded special counsel investigation.



editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"The latest Transparency Virginia report, about the bizarre session which unfolded in Richmond this year, shows some back-sliding, though it appears to be marginal."

THE VIRGINIA GENERAL Assembly’s record on openness is less than stellar, and that’s being generous. Lawmakers routinely kill bills in early morning committee and subcommittee meetings, oftentimes by voice vote, so there are no witnesses and no records. Meetings are scheduled, cancelled and rescheduled without warning, or moved from one room to another without notice, further complicating those invested in a particular issue or the lawmaking process in general. Plausible deniability would be one way to explain why they do what they do. An incumbent cannot be held accountable when there’s no record of a vote, after all, or no telling who really killed a particular bill.   Undemocratic is a reasonable way to describe it. That penchant for subverting a law-making process that should be public and accountable was the impetus behind the creation of “Transparency Virginia” in 2014. The latest Transparency Virginia report, about the bizarre session which unfolded in Richmond this year, shows some back-sliding, though it appears to be marginal. And some major concessions — such as official video streams and archives for floor session and a pledge that the new General Assembly building will be outfitted to broadcast committee meetings — may usher in a new era for accountability in the commonwealth. But the public must understand that this progress, which was hard won, will be relinquished without continued advocacy for openness by citizens.
The Virginian-Pilot

At the outset, I want to be perfectly clear: Albemarle County Planning Commission actions on 30 July were legal. But that does not make them right. After a long public hearing, long applicant testimony and lengthy remarks from the commission, the commission voted 6-1 to recommend approval of a proposed rezoning. All of the public comments and planning commission deliberations would be forwarded in a packet to the Board of Supervisors. Not so fast. The chairman of the Planning Commission, Tim Keller, had another idea. According to his comments after the July 23 vote, he had a series of one-on-one meetings with other commissioners and drafted two Resolutions of Agreement for the Planning Commission to consider under “new business.” All the planning commissioners apparently knew this was coming — the public did not. County staff might have been equally blindsided.
Neil Williamson, The Daily Progress