Transparency News, 8/5/2022

August 5, 2022


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state & local news stories


"I am not going to discuss legal matters in public."

Nonprofit Appalachian Voices is suing Virginia to force the release of a document that allegedly contains an opinion from the attorney general’s office that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin cannot pull the state out of a regional carbon market.  The suit, filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court, claims that the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Office of the Attorney General “have unlawfully withheld a public record … by erroneously relying on a statutory exclusion that does not apply.” The case stems from a comment made by air board member Hope Cupit at an April meeting that she “got an opinion from the attorney general’s office back in March saying that it’s not the responsibility of the board” to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative but “that it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly.” In its petition, Appalachian Voices and Anderson say they submitted requests under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act for copies of the opinion Cupit said she had received from the attorney general’s office.  Both DEQ and the attorney general’s office said they had a record but refused to release it on the grounds that the state Freedom of Information Act exempts it from mandatory disclosure because it’s protected by attorney-client privilege.  But Appalachian Voices says that “the narrow exclusion for information protected by the attorney-client privilege does not apply where, as here, the client has publicly disclosed the information.” 
Virginia Mercury

A Republican-backed group that aims to promote “election transparency” by publishing voter data from across the country on its website is threatening legal action against Virginia over a new state law banning outside groups from publishing voter rolls online. The Virginia Department of Elections recently sent a letter to the Voter Reference Foundation, run by former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Doug Truax of Illinois, instructing the organization to remove Virginia’s voter rolls from its website.  The site allows visitors to search by both name and address. It displays party affiliation in states where voters register by party and a history of which elections a voter participated in, but not how they voted. Virginia’s voter registration data is quasi-public. Political parties, campaigns, PACs and nonprofits doing voter outreach can purchase lists of registered voters from the state, and that information is routinely used for election season advertising. The law allows some voters to shield their addresses, including law enforcement officers, judges, domestic violence survivors, stalking victims and others who might fear for their safety if it were easy to find out where they live.
Virginia Mercury

The Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center arose as a topic of discussion during the Richmond School Board meeting Monday night. But the potential conflict between the School Board and the city, regarding rights and ownership of the facility in light of Mayor Levar Stoney’s Diamond District redevelopment plan, was not the cause of discussion. A conflict of interest for the Board’s legal counsel, revealed during executive session, was at issue for Vice Chair Kenya Gibson, 3rd District. The public is not allowed to be present during the School Board’s executive sessions. Ms. Gibson said she believed the matter of the School Board’s counsel having a conflict of interest, and, whether or not the School Board had counsel to explore the board’s legal rights regarding the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center is a matter that should be discussed in public. Jonathan Young, 4th District, read part of the state code regarding closed meetings of public bodies in government before offering his opinion that discussing the board’s options, given the admitted conflict of interest by counsel, should be public. The exchange became more heated when School Board Chair Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed again said, “I am not going to discuss legal matters in public.”
Richmond Free Press

The Rockingham County School Board will meet Monday and likely get legal counsel about a policy proposed by board member Matt Cross, said Superintendent Oskar Scheikl. This step in the policy proposal process was set to take place at a July 12 meeting. However, Cross was chaperoning a trip with his child and was unable to attend the meeting. School Board Chair Dan Breeden said that because the proposal was made by Cross, he should be in attendance for the conversation with legal counsel. That step will likely take place during a closed session on Monday. Certain conversations between the School Board and attorneys are protected under the Freedom of Information Act. Scheikl said there will not be a public report on what is talked about during closed session. Breeden reiterated at the last School Board meeting that legal counsel does not tell the School Board how to vote. Counsel doesn’t tell the School Board whether the policy is good or bad. All it does is present what exists legally currently.
Daily News Record