Transparency News 8/15/19



August 15, 2019


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state & local news stories


Portsmouth has resumed broadcasting all public speakers at City Council meetings, reversing an unpopular decision made in response to intense criticism over the ouster of former Police Chief Tonya Chapman. Councilman Shannon Glover proposed the switch last month, asking council members to consider it at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting. The vote was unanimous. City staff immediately followed the order, broadcasting footage of the final portion of Tuesday night’s meeting. The recording included a tense confrontation between white council members and a Churchland man who took the lectern to denounce their racial bias, taking special aim at recent tweets from Councilman Bill Moody. The reversal on broadcasting public comments comes with new rules for speakers that give the mayor more control over how the elected body is addressed, with the goal, council members said, of keeping personal attacks at bay. 
The Virginian-Pilot

On the heels of a scam that bilked Spotylvania County out of more than $600,000, a tit-for-tat between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board continues to fester. Members of the two boards lobbed accusations at each other at their separate meetings this week, claiming political games were being played after news broke about the theft of a partial payment for a new synthetic turf football field and a pair of fraud cases involving other county funds. Numerous officials have said police asked them not to talk about the theft of the field payment to avoid hampering the investigation. School Board Chairman Baron Braswell said it bothers him that someone decided to release the information anyway. Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Trampe added his take, saying: “It’s disturbing to me that some individuals seem more upset that the theft became public than they are that the theft took place. We’re not about cover-ups.”
Free Lance-Star

As a resident of the town of Amherst, Ann Hubbard said she has taken part in every local election since she moved there more than four years ago. Hubbard presented the council a petition seeking a change to the town’s charter allowing for the expulsion of elected town council representatives following the removal of former councilwoman Janice Wheaton on July 10. Council voted 4-1 after a closed session to expel Wheaton for reasons the town has not disclosed. Amherst resident Jason Eagle said he has no problem with removing Wheaton for a valid reason but the voters are at a disadvantage not knowing more. “The actions that have been taken are legal and ethical and while we know there are those who do not agree with them, they were in all ways, legal and ethical decisions,” Mayor Dwayne Tuggle said before a packed room of residents. “It would have been easier on council’s part to say more,” Tuggle said. “However, that would have been a violation of the council’s code of ethics."
The News & Advance

The Strasburg Town Council approved several budget amendments at a Tuesday night meeting that also saw the return of Mayor Richard A. “Rich” Orndorff Jr. after a nearly three-month absence and a failed motion for a closed session after the meeting. After several discussions on updates to the Council Code of Conduct and Ethics, council has decided to allow all town boards, commissions and council members to enact separate codes of ethics. Intending to follow up the meeting with a closed session that wasn’t noted on the public meeting agenda, Councilwoman Emily Reynolds read from a script explaining the closed session was pursuant to a Virginia code that allows councils to discuss, consider or privately interview individuals for employment, assignment, promotions, demotions and resignations or discipline of town staff and public officials. “The subject of the closed meeting is to discuss personal actions of members of council,” she said. Councilman John Massoud seconded Reynolds’ motion, but Jocelyn Vena voted no, saying she hadn’t been informed of the closed meeting ahead of time. Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup then also voted no. “Personally I don’t think it’s appropriate for closed session,” he continued, “so I would have to say ‘no.’” Orndorff said he agreed with Terndrup and recused himself from the closed session, “since I am probably the subject of the discussion.”
The Northern Virginia Daily


stories of national interest

Last month, the Denver Police Department joined dozens of other agencies around Colorado and across the country when it encrypted its radios, blocking the public from being able to listen in on all communications. In the past, agencies only encrypted tactical channels used to relay strategic information to officers and others. However, as DPD’s radio equipment began to age and with rise of new technology, the department decided to upgrade. After the new communications system was put in, the department made the move to encrypt the scanners as well. Journalists use the scanners to find out about breaking news, respond to emergency situations, follow crime trends and more. Since October, Denver Police and representatives from various media outlets have been holding meetings to discuss the possibility of keeping that scanner traffic open to newsrooms for reporting purposes.





editorials & columns


WHY did he do it? Why did a long-serving elected official who is running for reelection contact the media and misrepresent the facts? [‘Where did $600,000 of Spotsylvania taxpayer money go?’ Aug. 8]. Why did he risk compromising an early, ongoing investigation that could lead to recovery of the stolen funds and catching the perpetrators of this crime? Why did he put out a scathing commentary that was weighted much more heavily on political accusations than concern about the crime of stealing taxpayer money? Finally, why did he not sound the alarm when smaller amounts of county funds were stolen on two separate occasions?
Baron Braswell, Free Lance-Star

WHERE did it go? A bond referendum authorized the Spotsylvania County School Board to borrow money for various school-related capital projects. One project was the installation of synthetic turf football fields at each of the county’s five high schools. The cost of each field was estimated to be $800,000 or a total of $4 million for all five. Then the cost of installation for one field rose to $1.2 million. The Board of Supervisors expected the School Board to hold public hearings prior to procuring and installing the turf fields to hear citizens’ concerns about the potential hazards and costs. But the School Board decided not to involve the public. Last month, the school superintendent authorized a $600,000+ payment to the vendor as a partial payment on the $1.2 million turf field. But it now appears that this was a fraudulent claim, and that the money was wired to a fraudulent recipient. Resistance to accountability has been a hallmark of the Spotsylvania schools budget. In fact, the School Board has still not published its FY2020 approved budget on its website .
Tim McLaughlin, Free Lance-Star