Transparency News 8/2/19



August 2, 2019


There was no issue of Access News yesterday, Aug. 1.

state & local news stories


“It was a decision made by the local newspaper to start running that; we can’t base our movements around that." 

The wait is almost over. Richmond Mayor Stoney announced Thursday that he will introduce the now-$1.5 billion proposal to replace the Richmond Coliseum and reshape a large chunk of downtown at a special meeting of the City Council on Monday. His announcement came 274 days after the mayor pledged support for the project at a news conference last fall, where he endorsed what could be the biggest economic development project in Richmond history. Then came silence — nine months’ worth. Stoney was mum about the project publicly, saying only that his administration remained in negotiations with NH District Corp., a private group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II that submitted the only proposal to build a new arena and redevelop 21 acres of publicly owned downtown real estate north of Broad Street. The two sides negotiated the plans for 17 months.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Charlottesville City Council hammered out its operating procedures and protocols, including conduct at its meetings and use of city-issued credit cards. The council spent seven hours Wednesday at a retreat to discuss effective operation of the city. A majority of councilors said that their spending and travel habits aren’t transparent and people only know about it from reporting in the Progress. Walker said the council was being reactionary because articles in the Progress focused on the city rather than Albemarle County or the University of Virginia. Officials in Albemarle, such as supervisors, don’t have cards in their names. “It was a decision made by the local newspaper to start running that; we can’t base our movements around that,” she said. “I understand that when it’s in the paper, there may be a lens that it’s improper, but it’s legal,” said City Attorney John Blair.
The Daily Progress

The what and when was released in a Thursday morning announcement on the website of a Seattle, Washington-based e-commerce and technology company giant: Amazon will develop a renewable energy solar farm in Pittsylvania County projected to begin use in 2020. Outside of that, the details are completely up in the air. Pittsylvania County leadership didn’t know about the solar farm project before the morning announcement, and as of Thursday afternoon still were unclear on almost all of the details. The location of the planned farm was not provided in the announcement, and Amazon would not provide the Danville Register & Bee with the exact location or any details that weren’t in the news release. County real estate records don’t list any land grabs by either Amazon or its registered business agent in Virginia, the Richmond-based Corporation Service Company. And county officials still have no idea where the farm is slated to land. Commissioner of Revenue Shirley Hammock said nobody in her department or the community development office could find the location either. Pittsylvania County did not offer incentives of any kind to encourage the tech giant to build their project in the county, confirmed County Administrator David Smitherman. Virginia Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade Angela Nevarro said no state-level economic development incentives were offered to Amazon for this project.
Register & Bee

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s companies owe almost $2 million in delinquent taxes in Virginia, according to records obtained by WDBJ-TV. ies owned by the Republican governor owe $1.9 million in taxes to several counties in Virginia. The station said it first obtained documents showing more than $2 million in debts but some of the delinquencies were paid off after it reached out to the companies for comment. e Associated Press seeking comment.
The Daily Progress

stories of national interest

In a curious court case that began with a bullying incident, a Charleston judge decided Wednesday how Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, should handle the release of a police report involving a town councilman — a report that already became public months ago.  The town named the parent companies of The Post and Courier, Live 5 News, and Charleston City Paper as defendants in the case because those news organizations had requested the police report under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. By the time lawyers for Mount Pleasant and the media outlets arrived in court Wednesday, the police report in question had been widely reported upon since early May. Media attorney Jay Bender said the legal action was “absurd” — naming media outlets as defendants and prompting them to pay for legal counsel because the town wanted a judge to decide if a police report the town had already provided via a FOIA request had to be provided to the media — which already had the report.
Charleston Post & Courier

President Donald Trump’s order last September to declassify parts of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and subsequent tweets from Trump that arguably withdrew the earlier directive created enough uncertainty that a lawsuit seeking to force greater disclosureof the records will be allowed to continue, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. The Justice Department had urged U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta to shut down the Freedom of Information Act suit, arguing that all the unreleased parts of the warrant for former Trump adviser Carter Page remain classified.





editorials & columns

"No, sir. It was not a stunt; it was holding elected officials to the standards voters expect them to adhere to. Public service is a high calling; you let us down, sir."

Almost two years after Mayor Levar Stoney called for proposals to replace the Richmond Coliseum and redevelop the surrounding area, the lone plan now heads to the City Council for public review and action — finally. “They say that great things take time,” Stoney said in starting off a Thursday afternoon press conference that provided a high-level overview of the $1.5 billion undertaking, which would be the city’s largest-ever economic development project. Now that the city has completed negotiations with NH District Corp. — the only group to submit a proposal — the Stoney administration can bring the plan into the full light of day. Citing ongoing negotiations with the developer, the city has yet to share full details. The ordinances and supporting legal documents, estimated to be in the hundreds of pages, will be introduced at a special City Council meeting on Monday. 
Richmond Times-Dispatch

AMID AN otherwise routine work session of the Portsmouth City Council last week, City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton dropped a bombshell on her fellow officials in announcing that the Civic Center complex was no longer fit for human habitation and must be vacated at once. The facility, which occupies prime real estate on the waterfront in Olde Towne and is some of the most valuable property Portsmouth owns, includes the city jail, which can house 288 inmates and is home to about 130 Sheriff’s Office personnel and 60 contractors. The three-minute presentation — which was not listed on the agenda and, according to Pilot reporting, could not be heard clearly from the public gallery — came as a surprise to other city officials, including Sheriff Michael Moore, who seemed blind-sided by the announcement. The suddenness of this decision — the lack of communication between the city manager and the sheriff’s office — certainly raises a lot of questions, all of which need answers. Those who represent Portsmouth need to be more transparent, communicative, straightforward and deliberate. The city has had enough of secrecy and surprises, and it deserves better.
The Virginian-Pilot

It may sound “corny” to some people these days when cynicism seems to be the prevailing national mood, but we believe elected public service is the highest calling in a democratic republic such as ours, whether it be at the national, state or local level. To be trusted enough by voters to be given the awesome power and responsibility to represent them in government is an honor above all others. That’s why we were so taken aback and so disappointed by the actions of longtime Pittsylvania County Supervisor Coy Harville, actions deemed serious enough that a majority of the county Board of Supervisors voted July 16 to remove their colleague as chairman of the Pittsylvania County Service Authority Board. You would think Harville, in his 36 years in elected office, would have grasped the simple lesson that such a post is a trust he holds from the public, that there are standards for behavior and conduct a public servant is supposed to uphold. Evidently not, because he has accused the four supervisors who voted against him of taking part in a “political stunt,” nothing more. No, sir. It was not a stunt; it was holding elected officials to the standards voters expect them to adhere to. Public service is a high calling; you let us down, sir.
Register & Bee