Transparency News 8/31/18



August 31, 2018


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state & local news stories


"Board members have routinely ignored requests for comment and have seldom expressed dissent or even strong opinions during meetings."

Saying he expects the matter may wind up in court, City Manager Randy Eads on Thursday rejected the Bristol Herald Courier’s Freedom of Information Act request related to the effort to oust City Councilman Doug Fleenor. Following Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the newspaper asked for a copy of the notice of intent document served on Fleenor during a break in the meeting. The notice informed Fleenor that the other members of City Council intend to remove him for as yet unspecified “malfeasance or neglect of duty,” according to Fleenor. In a written statement issued Thursday, Eads contends the language of the city charter trumps the state law dealing with public meetings, boards and documents. “At this time, the city is denying any Freedom of Information Act request for records relating to the removal of Mr. Fleenor, based on the language of the city charter,” Eads wrote. “The city is willing to release all relevant records should Mr. Fleenor grant the city permission to do so.”
Bristol Herald Courier

An emergency Albemarle County School Board meeting again devolved into chaos as a parallel meeting outside the room was broken up and six people were arrested. As another speaker started to lead a chant in the lobby, police began asking people to quiet down. As board chairwoman Kate Acuff began to speak, muffled cheers and chants could be heard. In the meeting chamber’s lobby, about 50 community members filled rows of folding chairs, some wearing teal shirts that said “Ban it now.” A speaker refused to lower her voice and refused a request to disperse; she was escorted out. As others continued to refuse to leave, police handcuffed and escorted several more people out of the room. One man allegedly kicked an officer and was pushed to the ground, where he continued to struggle, saying an officer was hurting him. According to Albemarle police, four people were arrested outside the meeting, and two people were arrested after becoming disorderly inside Lane Auditorium. They were taken to Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail to be processed.
The Daily Progress

Hopewell's general registrar is disputing claims that she forced out a veteran assistant because she thought that person leaked confidential information about a draft City Council ballot where three names appeared in capital letters. But Yolanda Stokes admitted she found it odd that the assistant gave her resignation notice following discussion over locating the breach. When asked point-blank Wednesday if she considered former part-time assistant Betty Bogue the source of the leak, Stokes said, “No comment.” But Stokes admitted she did let Bogue go when Bogue tendered her resignation Aug. 20 after questioning the timing of the submission. Stokes claimed Bogue offered her letter during an in-office discussion about the leak.
The Progress-Index

The U.S. Postal Service said Thursday that accidental “human error” led to the inappropriate release of federal records on Abigail Spanberger, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 7th District. David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service, issued a statement apologizing to Spanberger. The disclosure became public Tuesday. A conservative super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, issued a news release with details on a school where Spanberger once taught, citing a record obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Citing no evidence, Spanberger on Tuesday accused the Congressional Leadership Fund of illegally obtaining the form, called Standard Form 86. She completed the paperwork when she was applying to be a federal postal inspector. She later served as postal inspector and CIA officer.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Bruce LaLonde helps oversee Portsmouth’s housing authority, and he wants to tell the public what he thinks of the agency that shelters thousands of the city’s poorest residents. But he doesn’t know if he’s allowed.  LaLonde, a commissioner on the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s board, complained at the group’s Aug. 16 meeting about a rule that bars commissioners from talking about the agency outside the boardroom. He urged leadership to consider giving members more freedom to voice opinions. Executive Director Ed Bland, who reports to the commissioners, said that’s not the case. The Virginian-Pilot this week asked the board and the authority whether such a policy exists, and after a day of researching, Bland said there is no written gag order and commissioners are free to talk if they want. Regardless, board members have routinely ignored requests for comment from The Pilot and have seldom expressed dissent or even strong opinions during meetings since most were appointed by the City Council about a year ago. LaLonde said no one had given him the OK to speak as of Tuesday evening.
The Virginian-Pilot

The sportswriter who was sued for access to his Twitter account has countersued BH Media, parent company of The Roanoke Times, alleging defamation in its handling of the case. Andy Bitter, former Virginia Tech football writer for The Roanoke Times, is asking for damages upward of $150,000 in the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke. The defamation allegation revolves around an article published in The Roanoke Times shortly after BH Media’s initial lawsuit was filed. In that article, reporter Jeff Sturgeon wrote of the transfer from Tucker to Bitter: “The company gave Bitter the login for the Twitter account, and Bitter alone has had access to it since then, the suit said.” “By falsely stating that ‘the company’ provided Bitter with the login for the Account in the Article, an allegation that does not appear in the Complaint or TRO motion, the article was not a fair report of their contents,” the filing said. It continued: “Whether Bitter received the Account directly from the Pilot or the Roanoke Times instead of from [Bitter's predecessor Kyle] Tucker individually is important to Bitter’s reputation.
Richmond Times-Dispatch


national stories of interest

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones lost a bid to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought against him by the parents of a boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, according to court documents released on Thursday. Jones has used his media platform Infowars to call the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 26 people a hoax, and suggested a political cover-up took place by left-wing forces seeking to take advantage of the shooting to promote gun control. Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, whose 6-year-old son Noah was murdered at Sandy Hook, said they sued because they were harassed and forced to move seven times after Jones called them liars and frauds, according to court documents.

Judge Bobby Bell denied on Wednesday the Calhoun Port Authority’s latest motion to dismiss a Texas Open Meetings Act case filed by the Victoria Advocate. The newspaper claims the port should have written on the agenda for its May 9 meeting that it was going into closed session to discuss hiring former U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist for a $160,000 annual salary. The port instead wrote it was going into closed session to deliberate “the appointment, employment, compensation, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee.”
Victoria Advocate

There are a lot of questions to be asked about Andrew Smith, who was recently installed to head the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Given that Smith previously worked for four years at the law firm Covington & Burling, representing an enormous number of corporate clients, including companies under active investigation by the FTC — including Equifax, Uber, and Facebook — one of those questions is: How will the FTC ensure against conflicts of interest?  So Public Citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all documents related to Smith’s financial disclosure and potential conflicts of interest, as well as how the agency would ensure Smith’s recusal from matters involving former clients. The FOIA request produced 495 pages worth of material, another hint at just how deep the conflicts run — but the pages were almost entirely redacted.
The Intercept




editorials & columns


"We wonder why the meeting was not simply rescheduled for a day when all could be present."

Aug. 22 was a typical fourth Wednesday of the month for members of the Lynchburg Planning Commission. The seven-member body, appointed by City Council, is the first line of public scrutiny for new development plans, rezonings, permit issuances and such; they regularly meet the second and fourth Wednesdays at 4 p.m. This particular Wednesday, though, the commission decided to move its meeting from the second-floor conference room of City Hall to City Council chambers to allow for a larger crowd and for online broadcast of the meeting. There were only two items on the agenda, but one was discussion and possible approval of the Downtown 2040 Master Plan. So for something as important as a public hearing and commission study of the 20-year planning document for Lynchburg’s historic downtown and riverfront, one would think it would be “All hands on deck!” for the seven commission members. One would be wrong — only a bare quorum of four members showed up. With an issue this important, we would have liked to see more debate, more questions — and more commissioners. We wonder why the meeting was not simply rescheduled for a day when all could be present.
The News & Advance