Transparency News, 8/7/20


August 7, 2020
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state & local news stories
"The release of the full, uncensored report came after the Inspector General’s Office made a copy available...after the Republican leaders had demanded to see it."
The Virginia Parole Board and its former chairperson violated state law and parole board policies in its decision to grant parole to Vincent Martin, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1980 for killing a Richmond police officer, according to an investigative report by the Office of the Inspector General that initially was kept secret. Three senior state Republican leaders on Thursday released an unredacted version of the six-page report from Virginia’s government watchdog agency that found allegations against the parole board and former Chair Adrianne Bennett were substantiated. A heavily redacted report was released July 29 to members of the media who sought it, but all but a few sentences of the document were blacked out, leaving only a few legible sentences. The full uncensored report was first sent to Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, on July 28. The release of the full, uncensored report came after the Inspector General’s Office made a copy available in the last 24 hours to top lawmakers after the Republican leaders had demanded to see it.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The FOIA Office in Fairfax County has posted its second annual report, a colorful representation of the county's FOIA efforts this past year, from the average response time to fill a FOIA request, how much each department charged in FOIA fees, and which month generated the most FOIA requests.
Fairfax County

At the first Suffolk School Board meeting since member Sherri Story’s successful lawsuit against the board was heard in the city’s Circuit Court alleging Freedom of Information Act violations, she has alleged yet another FOIA violation against the board. Initially during the Aug. 6 meeting, she made her objection during a motion to allow board member David Mitnick to participate electronically in both the open and closed portions of the meeting. After being corrected by board attorney Wendell Waller, Story made her objection to the closed meeting motion, saying the discussion of a hostile work environment complaint against her violated FOIA because it concerned discussion of a public official. She cited Attorney General opinions saying they should be discussed in open session. The motion also included numerous personnel matters.
Suffolk News-Herald

The vast majority of Norfolk officers live outside the city they police, something both the mayor and a U.S. congressman representing much of Norfolk say is a problem. One out of every five officers lives in Norfolk, according to a Virginian-Pilot analysis of city data. Far more — nearly two-thirds of the city’s roughly 700 sworn officers — live in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. And the proportion of officers who live in the city is smaller than Norfolk city employees on the whole. More non-sworn city employees live in Norfolk than anywhere else — about 42% of the city’s 3,920-person non-sworn workforce compared to 25% in Virginia Beach and 17% in Chesapeake.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Richmond Police Department spent at least $126,000 on rental vans, chemical agents and other equipment to respond to anti-police brutality protests in the city. Purchase order data VPM obtained through a public records request show RPD bought 1,025 units of chemical agents in various forms from June 1 through July 7. The department spent roughly $18,000 on hand-held and gas grenade forms of O.C. spray, commonly called pepper spray. The agency also spent just over $19,000 on C.S. tear gas canisters, excluding shipping costs. The totals do not include spending made by Virginia State Police, who provided assistance during the protests. VSP told VPM last month they had not yet disaggregated protest-related spending and have yet to respond to a public records request sent this week. 

Controversial actions taken by police during the early days of the social justice protests in Fredericksburg were justified and carried out according to department standards, according to an internal review released Thursday by city police. The 16-page report put out by Police Chief Brian Layton lists multiple violations of law and acts of vandalism in late May and early June that led police to use at least two types of non-lethal gas and rubber projectiles against protesters. Layton said the report is backed up by mounds of documentation and body camera footage.
The Free Lance-Star

Following challenges about the openness of Winchester’s City Council meetings, city officials are once again giving residents an opportunity to publicly address council members. A media release issued Wednesday evening by Winchester Communications Director Amy Simmons states that anyone who wishes to address council during public hearings or the public comment portions of its meetings and work sessions will be allowed to do so, starting Tuesday. Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic closed Rouss City Hall to the public in March, City Council has conducted its meetings and work sessions via videoconference. Citizens could submit comments in writing, but their statements were not read aloud during live broadcasts of the meetings. Anyone who wanted to view the submitted comments had to go online to do so.
The Winchester Star

Boyce Town Council members on Tuesday directed Mayor Richard Kibler to return one of various items he bought for the town with a debit card, asserting he didn’t have authority to make the purchases. Town Recorder Ruth Hayes said council members believe the mayor didn’t realize he wasn’t authorized to make the purchases, and they and David Griffin, the town’s part-time attorney, have been striving to help him discern his role within town government. In a 5-1 vote, the council directed Kibler to return a $399 credit card processing machine he bought with the debit card. The town doesn’t accept card transactions for payment of taxes and other bills. Council members indicated they think the town doesn’t need to start doing so. “Don’t you think the council needs to get updated to the (modern) times?” asked Kibler, the lone nay vote.
The Winchester Star
editorials & columns
"The IG report, dated July 28, bore red, boldface instructions at its top and bottom admonishing recipients not to publicly disseminate the document."
Members of Virginia’s Parole Board repeatedly ignored state law and several of its own policies in its decision to grant parole to a man who had served 40 years of a life term, according to a report by the state Inspector General. In a scathing, six-page report released by Republican legislators on Thursday, the board, under the direction of former chair Adrianne Bennett and her successor, Tonya Chapman, failed to notify victims’ relatives, prosecutors and other interested parties as required by Virginia law.  The IG report, dated July 28, bore red, boldface instructions at its top and bottom admonishing recipients not to publicly disseminate the document. An almost entirely redacted version was released to The Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act request last week. One of the most stunning disclosures in the report was the finding that, for half a year, Bennett dispensed with keeping minutes of board meetings, which is not only the law but a fundamental function of any governing board, from state commissions to church and civic clubs. Chapman, after Bennett’s departure, sought to explain it this way: “Bennett’s board meetings were often scheduled, but did not always occur and there were no board meeting notes taken,” the report quotes Chapman as saying. There are no Parole Board meeting minutes from last October through March.  
Bob Lewis, Virginia Mercury