Transparency News, 8/4/2022



August 4, 2022

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state & local news stories


"Encryption means some of the scanner groups that keep tabs on police officers’ whereabouts are now mourning the loss of a community resource and decrying what they consider a lack of transparency."

A Richmond prosecutor on Wednesday told a judge during a hearing for two Guatemalan immigrants charged in connection with an alleged July 4 mass shooting plot that he had no evidence that it was planned for Dogwood Dell, as the city’s police chief and mayor had noted during a July 6 news conference. Shortly after the hearing, during which it was disclosed that federal authorities will now prosecute the two suspects, the Richmond Police Department issued a statement that Chief Gerald Smith “stands behind the investigative work done by Richmond Police Detectives to stop a mass shooting planned for July 4th.” Richmond General District Judge David Hicks asked Assistant Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Clint Seal about the targeted location. “Mr. Seal, I’m asking as an officer of the court based off what I just told you, does the Commonwealth have information that either of these individuals were involved in something that could have potentially affected Dogwood Dell on the Fourth of July where my children were present,” Hicks asked from the bench. “I need to know that before I do anything else on this matter.” To that, Seal replied, “No.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Some members of the Virginia Beach City Council recently discussed the idea of adding a referendum question to the November ballot that would gauge voter’s interest in returning to an at-large voting system. They decided against it for now, but Councilman Aaron Rouse criticized the council members for excluding him and two other council members from the discussion, which did not occur during a City Council meeting. Mayor Bobby Dyer, Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson and several unidentified council members were involved in the discussions, according to an email from Dyer, obtained by The Pilot.
The Virginian-Pilot

A week after Albemarle County claimed it had no documents in response to a FOIA request for receipts from the veterinarian that euthanized a dog named Niko, it released a report hand delivered to Albemarle County Circuit Court on July 18 attesting to the euthanization, but providing no additional information. “We’re still working on getting answers as to how Niko was disposed of and why,” says Elliott Harding, the attorney who has represented Niko’s owner during a lengthy court battle to save the dog’s life. “When it comes to public use of private services, whether it be veterinarian or any other service, it’s a matter of public record. It’s disappointing that it’s taking this long to get the answers that will eventually come out.”  C-VILLE’s initial FOIA request sent July 15 also sought information about how the county arrived at the decision to euthanize Niko and what alternatives were considered. Documents the county provided in response to those queries were heavily redacted, making it impossible to gain additional information.

Amid growing frustration with the city’s housing authority, Norfolk City Council has been quietly working several angles to gain more control and oversight over the agency in what is becoming the city’s version of a hostile takeover. The council abruptly increased the size of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s board and appointed new members — all in the name of stacking the board with picks who would challenge the authority’s decisions. It also changed the city code in a way that allows the city to audit the authority. And several city council members have even discussed the option of going nuclear — and dissolving the agency entirely. Tensions between council and the authority reached a tipping point this year when council members learned the authority was operating a for-profit entity known as Hampton Roads Ventures that helped finance dozens of projects in low-income communities across the country, but not in Norfolk.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Virginia Beach Police Department began encrypting its radio traffic Thursday, meaning its officers’ communication on police radios is no longer public. It’s happening across the country. Smart phone apps have made police scanner traffic more accessible than ever, stoking concerns in the law enforcement community about officer safety and the transmission of sensitive information. Encryption means some of the scanner groups that keep tabs on police officers’ whereabouts are now mourning the loss of a community resource and decrying what they consider a lack of transparency. Virginia Beach had been planning since 2018 to encrypt its police radio frequencies, but the project was delayed due to the pandemic. In a statement Thursday, Virginia Beach police cited the same reasons that other agencies have in migrating to encrypted radio channels: officer safety and preventing the release of personal information.
The Virginian-Pilot

stories of national interest

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council joined by KWQC, WQAD, WHBF and the Quad Cities Times sued the Bettendorf Community School District and its board of directors Monday for blocking journalists from covering a meeting in May where parents expressed concern about violence in the district’s middle school. The defendants are the school district and the seven members of its school board. The lawsuit stems from a meeting held at the Waterfront Center on May 25, where around 200 to 300 parents with the majority of the members of the school board and Superintendent Michelle Morse attended, while school employees were at doors around the center keeping reporters and photographers from entering the meeting.

More than a dozen news organizations filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday, accusing the agency of unlawfully withholding public records related to the May school shooting in Uvalde. The organizations, which include ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, have each filed requests for information detailing the response to the massacre by various authorities under the Texas Public Information Act. ProPublica and the Tribune filed about 70 records requests with multiple agencies. DPS has refused to release records sought in the requests, even as the agency has selectively disclosed some information through public testimony, third-party analyses and news conferences.