Transparency News 8/6/19



August 6, 2019


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state & local news stories


“The charter of our town should not permit a small group to override the will of the voters."

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration on Monday officially unveiled the $1.5 billion proposal to redevelop the area around the Richmond Coliseum, setting in motion a City Council review of the massive plans that could reshape downtown. Hundreds of pages of plans were introduced at a special meeting of the council laying out the terms of the economic development deal Stoney’s administration spent 17 months reviewing and negotiating with NH District Corp., the private group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II. Council members did not delve into the deal Monday, but did say they were eager to begin reviewing the proposal.  Council President Cynthia Newbille of the 7th District said the council would seek its own consultant to review the full plan. That review will supplement the work of a council-appointed citizen advisory commission, which will have 90 days to issue a report to the council on its findings once the council has appointed a majority of its members.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

petition demanding that Amherst Town Council request the Virginia General Assembly to amend the town’s charter to remove a section allowing council to expel an elected member is expected to be presented to council during its Aug. 14 regular meeting.  Ann Hubbard, a town resident, wrote on the online petition’s homepage she was stunned when she heard council during its July 10 meeting voted 4-1 to expel Janice Wheaton, who was elected to an at-large seat with 511 votes last November. “The charter of our town should not permit a small group to override the will of the voters,” she wrote on the petition’s homepage. “…If they wish for a member to be removed, they should be required to issue a recall petition, with the reasons for the removal request spelled out.” Meanwhile, council has called a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7 for the purpose of holding interviews for appointing an interim member to serve until a Nov. 5 special election is held. The interviews will be held in open session, according to Town Manager Sara Carter. 
The News & Advance

The Halifax County School Board will weigh recent developments in the push to build a new high school when trustees gather for their regular monthly meeting tonight in Halifax at 7 p.m. at the Bethune Office Complex. One matter that’s almost certain to come up for discussion: a “second opinion” architectural study of HCHS, which the Halifax County Board of Supervisors commissioned in response to a School Board-funded study by Moseley Architects. The Moseley study offered two recommendations for the high school: either make extensive renovations or replace the 40-year-old facility entirely. The School Board has voted to build a new school. The second opinion study, by OWPR Inc. of Blacksburg, has been in the hands of supervisors since around the end of June. Supervisors Chairman Dennis Witt said last week that OWPR’s findings would be revealed at the Aug. 5 board meeting. However, School Board Chairman Joe Gasperini is calling for the second opinion study to be made public immediately. “The sooner it’s public, the sooner people can analyze it,” said Gasperini. The School Board has not made public the Branch Builds PPEA offer to protect the company’s competitive position, as allowed under Virginia’s open government law. The second PPEA offer, by an unnamed firm, is expected to come into the school board central office by today’s deadline.


stories of national interest

Faced with another record-breaking year of new Freedom of Information Act requests, a governmentwide council of FOIA officers has recommended leveling the playing field for agencies struggling to modernize their IT amid a surging workload. The Chief FOIA Officers Council’s technology subcommittee has recommended adding commercial, off-the-shelf FOIA and records management software to the General Services Administration’s schedules program, giving agencies an opportunity to purchase these tools without having to shop around for the best deal. Eric Stein, director of the State Department’s Office of Information Programs, and the subcommittee’s other co-chair, said the subcommittee’s upcoming final report will also look at ways agencies can standardize the tools they use for redaction and case processing.
Federal News Network

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Monday pressed Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers on why the public shouldn’t be allowed to see redacted portions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, suggesting that he may be willing to consider releasing at least some of the restricted document. Judge Reggie Walton, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, posed the questions during a hearing on a pair of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits seeking the redacted portions of the report. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold filed the lawsuits earlier this year. The cases have since been consolidated, and attorneys for each party split the arguments during Monday’s hearing.
The Hill

The Florida Department of Education rolled out its database of student information, called the Florida Schools Safety Portal, late Thursday, designed to enhance school security in the wake of last year’s shooting in Parkland. The data portal will include access to information about students’ history with law enforcement, discipline as well as any social media posts that contain “certain critical threat indicators,”according to a news release. It will also include information from FortifyFL, an app created by the state to allow reporting of suspicious behavior, plus whether the student was ever “Baker-Acted,” or involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility under Florida law. Access to the database is restricted only to certain personnel who have signed user agreements, and only for 30-minute viewing sessions. The data cannot be downloaded or stored, the Department said.

quote_2.jpg"Access to the database is restricted only to certain personnel who have signed user agreements, and only for 30-minute viewing sessions."


editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"The critical difference between a coup d’état and what Amherst did is that is that a coup is illegal and what Amherst did is quite legal."

On July 10, Amherst Town Council voted to expel one of its members. Why? No one is saying. All we know from afar is that four of the council members didn’t much like the fifth one, apparently because she asked a lot of questions and had different views than the majority. Now, we don’t know the council members involved or anything about the issues that the dissenting council member was asking about — but that also gives us the freedom to focus on the philosophical issues involved rather than the personalities. Those philosophical issues seem pretty clear: Amherst Town Council just overturned the results of an election. The critical difference between a coup d’état and what Amherst did is that is that a coup is illegal and what Amherst did is quite legal.That raises the question we’ll explore today: Why is it legal? 
The Roanoke Times

Everything will depend on whether alleged violations of the First and 14th Amendment by the Virginia Department of Corrections can be proved. But it’s a risk worth taking, a fight worth making. Charlottesville attorney Jeff Fogel had filed suit in federal court in Richmond against five corrections officials, claiming that they wrongly censored the writings of Uhuru Baraka Rowe, an inmate at Sussex II State Prison. Inmates have First Amendment rights to free speech and publication, just like the rest of us. However, prison officials censored two of Mr. Rowe’s essays on poor prison conditions, the suit days. There really are two issues at stake here. The immediate question is whether prison officials actually did censor Mr. Rowe’s work in order to suppress criticism and, in a sense, to make themselves look good — in itself, a form of the Potemkin village. The second, of course, is whether conditions at the prison really are as bad as Mr. Rowe claims. Both questions deserve scrutiny. The court case will formally determine whether officials did indeed violate the First Amendment in censoring the essays for an impermissible reason.
The Daily Progress