Transparency News, 8/12/20


August 12, 2020
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state & local news stories
A Suffolk Circuit Court judge has awarded School Board member Sherri Story all attorney’s fees and other costs associated with her Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the board and the majority of its members. Judge Carl Eason Jr., in a Aug. 10 hearing, ordered the board to pay Story just over $25,000 in attorney’s fees and other costs resulting from the case — $21,950 specifically for attorney’s fees and another $3,056.42 in other costs, including filing fees, service fees and court reporter fees. “The court did not find every instance of an alleged FOIA violation to constitute a violation,” Martingayle said. “So the court did not agree with Ms. Story that everything she thought to be a violation was a violation. However, all the court needed to do is to declare that there was one violation in order to trigger relief. And the court actually found approximately 25 instances of violations.”
Suffolk News-Herald

Albemarle County Public Schools has filled Charlottesville Tomorrow’s requests for public records related to its school reopening plans — about two weeks after the state mandated deadline to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents came a week after the University of Virginia’s First Amendment Clinic sent the school division a letter asking them to adhere to the state law. The Albemarle school division said it did not need to meet the statutory FOIA deadline because the county’s Board of Supervisors “extended indefinitely” the deadline in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The purpose for the provision regarding responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act was to ensure that the County was not in violation of the Act, and the protections it affords for certain records, in circumstances when it may have been impossible, unsafe, or unlawful for County employees to come into the County’s buildings to search for paper records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request during the COVID-19 disaster,” County Attorney Greg Kamptner said in an email explaining the ordinance last month. The filled requests — which included emails and written reopening plans — were all electronic documents. The ordinance suspending FOIA deadlines in the county still stands.
Charlottesville Tomorrow
stories of national interest
A public corruption scandal in a rural Florida elections office just an hour west of the state capital reveals how easily federal dollars meant for election security can be diverted to cover up malfeasance, a government watchdog says. The former elections supervisor in the panhandle's Liberty County is charged with using election security funds to hide $42,000 in personal spending sprees — a potential accountability problem in any small office where one person holds the purse strings and nobody else is watching, observers said. The case's first hearing is Monday. The lack of oversight was exacerbated by a state-mandated nondisclosure agreement supervisors had to sign to get the election security money in the first place, they said.