Transparency News 8/27/19



August 27, 2019


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state & local news stories


"The board 'will not respond to oral or written comments,' according to the recommendation."

The Frederick County School Board unanimously voted last week to give the School Board oversight over student publications. The decision to give administrators and board members more defined oversight over school-sponsored publications occurred during the Frederick School Board business meeting on Tuesday. Before the vote there was no discussion, although board members did ask a few clarifying questions, on the policy change. The change on Policy 313P, Student Publications, was prepared by Steve Edwards, the school division’s coordinator of policy and communications. Edwards said in the meeting that the policy update is to reflect recommendations from the Virginia School Board Association. The changes were reviewed by the School Board’s legal counsel.
The Winchester Star

From now on, if you want to watch a meeting of the Martinsville City Council, you will have to do it every other Tuesday evening in city hall. There are no more broadcasts, either on the public-access cable channel or YouTube. Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson has announced at city council meetings that the video equipment is broken, and council members referred questions to City Manager Leon Towarnicki, who wrote in an email to the Bulletin that the equipment is not likely to be repaired or replaced. “I’ve received no calls about it, which leads me to believe viewership was very low. We did find value in the YouTube replays for the purpose of generating/verifying minutes of meetings,” Towarnicki wrote.
Martinsville Bulletin

Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors on Monday voted to move forward with $164.4 million in campus capital projects and laid the groundwork for public comment on potential tuition increases at future meetings. The board amended its bylaws in accordance with a state law that requires public comment before a university’s governing body can increase tuition and mandatory fees. The comment period will follow the university’s advertisement of a potential tuition and fee increase at least 30 days before the board meeting on the matter. People will now have a chance to comment before increasing tuition via a written process or during a budget workshop with a public comment period. At least three members of the board would be present for the workshop and it would feature a PowerPoint presentation that gives background of “the university’s tuition and fees and factors considered,” according to a recommendation from Tech president Tim Sands’ leadership team. Following the presentation, speakers, who must be pre-registered with the board secretary at least seven days in advance of the meeting, will have a public comment period of 30 minutes. Each speaker will be limited to three minutes “and must restrict their comments to tuition and fees only,” according to the recommendation. The board “will not respond to oral or written comments,” according to the recommendation. 
The Roanoke Times


stories of national interest

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Campaign for Accountability and a group of scholars filed a lawsuit last week against the Office of Legal Counsel for failing to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests for decades-old documents they believe will shed light on current government surveillance activities, immigration policy and other significant issues. They argue the information should be released under a 2016 amendment to the law.  The Office of Legal Counsel, a Justice Department office that provides legal advice to the president and the executive branch, renders opinions that “definitively answer legal questions raised by agency officials or to resolve legal disputes between federal agencies,” the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The plaintiffs made their document request on Feb. 15 but “have not received a substantive response to their proposal” and “exhausted all applicable administrative remedies,” according to the lawsuit.
Government Executive

A flaw in a recent email migration at City Hall has opened Gainesville up to possible litigation for its unreasonable time to fulfill record requests, or so some city officials fear. The city's IT department had recently upgraded its email system for more storage and better performance. But a July records request from The Sun — that has taken six weeks to only partially fulfill — has thrown City Hall's ability to obtain those records into question. City officials say the request has made them realize that they are unable to easily access deleted emails and that the ongoing snafu will leave citizens who want records waiting longer than usual and being charged for the extra work.
Government Technology





editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"Transparency is not a burden. It never has been, and it never will be."

[The Williamsburg Area] Tourism Council lawyer Greg Davis told council members in March the General Assembly intended to exempt the Tourism Council from public-body status so the organization wouldn’t be burdened with the logistics, expense and requirements of being a public body. Transparency is not a burden. It never has been, and it never will be. And making vital decisions involving the public’s money must almost never be done behind closed doors. Anyone from the General Assembly who told council members they would be exempt from requirements that come with handling the public’s tax dollars should have known better. So far, the Tourism Council has announced its meetings ahead of time and dedicating time for public comment. But there’s a significant difference between voluntarily acting in a transparent fashion and being required to hold a standard of transparency.
Daily Press

Kudos to Albemarle County School Board members for flagging problems in a proposed new policy affecting how residents may speak to the board. The proposal was presented by school system staff. To begin with, the new policy would have allowed people to speak only if they had previously signed up online. That’s a very bad idea. Sure, speakers must sign up now in order to get a slot on the agenda. But that can be done just prior to the meeting, at the meeting. Eliminating that opportunity and moving solely to online sign-ups strikes us as elitist. Hasn’t the county been struggling with the fact that not every location has good internet coverage? Don’t school system officials recognize that not every home has access to an online computer? We understand that meetings would be more efficient if staff knew ahead of time exactly how many speakers wished for time; then the length of the public comment period could be planned for. But the proposed solution comes at the too-high price of citizen engagement.
The Daily Progress