Transparency News 8/14/19



August 14, 2019


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state & local news stories


Yesterday, VCOG filed a position paper with the Freedom of Information Advisory Council's subcommittee on phishing. You can read it here.

There was no Access News issue yesterday, Aug. 13.

When a white nationalist rammed his car into a crowd two years ago in Charlottesville, it changed everything. But it didn’t have to happen. The Independent Review of the 2017 protest events released months later was critical of what the city, police and even state did and didn’t do. It prompted ABC13 to look at how prepared authorities are, should something similar happen where you live. We requested the security plans from police in Lynchburg, Danville and Roanoke through the Freedom of Information Act.  Danville and Lynchburg shared some information and agreed to on-camera interviews. Lynchburg provided a copy of their Emergency Operations Manual. Roanoke only provided a written response.

Days after a state open-government watchdog said Norfolk’s School Board violated the law by repeatedly failing to give public notice of meetings, board members planned another meeting without giving proper notice. The latest meeting, which was to be held in Richmond starting Monday, would have been at least the fifth time in 10 months that the board has met without properly announcing the meeting in advance. Twice, they provided no notice at all. Full details of the latest one weren’t publicly posted until Friday morning. A deputy city attorney representing the board initially said its notice was sufficient when a lawyer for The Virginian-Pilot objected. But by late Saturday, the meeting was canceled. In two statements from the board on Monday, different reasons for the cancelation were given. The first statement said the board provided notice as soon as members decided to hold a meeting and then canceled it after a death in the facilitator’s family. The second statement correctly says the meeting was planned weeks before notice was given and then canceled after the board’s chairwoman realized, “simultaneously” to The Pilot, that the notification requirements “would not be met.” The second statement omits the death in the facilitator’s family as a cause.
The Virginian-Pilot

Three weeks ago, Portsmouth City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton abruptly declared Portsmouth’s city jail unfit for human habitation and ordered it evacuated immediately, along with four adjoining government buildings. The city then plastered bright orange “condemned” signs on the doors of the Portsmouth Civic Center, alerting passersby that the complex that includes the jail, the magistrate’s office and a police department evidence unit was unlivable. Pettis Patton’s announcement triggered confusion, concern and litigation.  Meanwhile, the city manager and members of her staff have repeatedly ignored or declined to answer questions from The Virginian-Pilot about how the city plans to carry out such a big evacuation. Here’s what we still don’t know:
The Virginian-Pilot

Once again, the Office of the State Inspector General reports, there were no claims on the state Fraud and Abuse Whistle Blower fund. In fact, no whistle-blowers reported anything to the IG’s office during fiscal year 2019. There were no claims the year before, either, though whistle-blowers reported 10 incidents of fraud or abuse. No claims in fiscal 2017 either. Whistle-blowers reported seven incidents reported that year. In fiscal year 2016, no claims and one incident reported. No claims or incidents in fiscal year ‘15. Zippo in FY 14. And in fiscal year 2013, when the IG took over responsibility for the program? None.
Daily Press

Based on the announcements in December, the parking lot of the former Telvista building should’ve been a hive of activity by now. Instead, knee-high blades of grass now poke through the cracks in the asphalt along Cane Creek Boulevard. PRA Group, the debt-collection company that announced it would bring $15 million in investment and 500 jobs and begin hiring this past spring, made promises it could not quite keep. The Norfolk-based company now will invest $11 million and bring 300 jobs instead, and will likely begin operations at the former Telvista call center early next year. Linwood Wright, public and governmental affairs consultant with Danville’s office of economic development, declined to provide details on the renegotiated incentive package.
Register & Bee

36,000 mailers will soon be heading to the voters of Washington County, Virginia, as part of the county’s contract with a marketing and public relations firm called The Corporate Image. The mailers are part of the county’s $57,000 deal with the firm to inform the voting public about the crowded conditions of the 150-year-old Washington County Courthouse and the possible relocation of circuit court to a vacant Kmart near I-81’s Exit 17. The mailer is set to be an “educational, fact-based one-pager, if you will, about the courthouse and the option for the people for the referendum,” County Administrator Jason Berry said. “So it’s not a sales piece. It’s an educational piece.”
Bristol Herald Courier

Taking fellow trustees by surprise, Halifax County School Board Chairman Joe Gasperini tendered his resignation on Monday night, effective at the end of the regular monthly meeting of the School Board in Halifax. Reading from written remarks, Gasperini offered a brief explanation for his decision: “I had higher hopes for the county than it had for itself. The dream of a new high school could have changed the direction of this county. Instead we have a group of individuals who want to make a vague proclamation as to what the county needs when it has been obvious all along.” Gasperini expressed frustration afterwards in a brief interview over what he described as efforts to muzzle his advocacy of a new HCHS facility: “I’ve been told not to talk about a new high school again.” He declined to identify those responsible for the pushback, saying, “I’m not going to sit and name names or organizations or anything like that.”


stories of national interest

Evanston, Illinois, City Clerk Devon Reid on Aug. 8 dropped the lawsuit he filed against the city, city manager and city attorney over Freedom of Information Act practices. The case was dismissed with prejudice, Reid and his attorney Ed Mullen confirmed Monday. The lawsuit filed in May centered largely on whether Reid should have access to unredacted police body camera videos and other city documents.
Chicago Tribune

Calls were growing for the resignation of Oakland County, Michigan, Commissioner Shelley Goodman Taub, a veteran Republican from Bloomfield Township, after Taub admitted to WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) that she’d sent a text to her commission colleagues that said “Delete! Delete! Delete! Now.” The point of her text was to urge Taub's colleagues on the county board to erase their recent emails. That can be a criminal act if such deletions involve key categories of government correspondence, according to legal experts. Taub’s text also said awkwardly, “You are about to receive FOA’s” — her way of saying that media and others were likely to submit requests to see the emailsunder Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, commonly abbreviated as FOIAs.
Detroit Free Press



quote_2.jpg"She’d sent a text to her commission colleagues that said 'Delete! Delete! Delete! Now.'”