Transparency News, 9/10/20


 September 10, 2020
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state & local news stories

Virginia’s annual datathon event, which challenges students, technologists and state-government employees to solve various social problems using data, will include some new twists when it runs next month. In addition to being held virtually for the first time Oct. 1-2, the competition’s theme of “Communities and COVID-19” is designed to be broader than in past years so teams can address a wide range of social problems exacerbated by the pandemic, organizers said.
State Scoop

Hampton hired a private investigator in 2018 to surveil a then-department director who employees alleged was having an affair with another staffer. The city paid $11,237 to TNT Surveillance LLC to follow Kevin Myers while he was working as Hampton’s director of Parks, Recreation & Leisure Services, according to records the Daily Press obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Myers was followed at least four times in May 2018 before being fired Sept. 24, 2018.
Daily Press

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Wednesday that would automatically seal criminal records for more than 150 offenses, making it one of the boldest automated sealing proposals in the country. People who commit violent offenses and sex offenses can’t have their records sealed. Criminal charges that don’t result in convictions would be automatically sealed, although there are a few conditions in which they could remain in the public record. Sen. Scott Surovell is worried about making this change without dealing with companies that offer private databases. Those databases scrape court information from websites, so they would be gathering information that could eventually be sealed and sell it to people interested in finding an alternative way to look up criminal records.
The Roanoke Times

The Town of Leesburg will remain in a state of local emergency through early spring. On Tuesday night, the council voted 4-1-1 to authorize a renewal of the town’s continuity of government ordinance related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The adopted ordinance extends the expiration date of the state of local emergency to April 3, 2021, which would mark a year from when the original ordinance was adopted. The ordinance will allow council members to continue remote participation in meetings, though a minimum of four council members must be physically present for a meeting.

Norfolk police — without telling city leaders or the public — started using a controversial facial recognition program late last year, one that could end people’s ability to anonymously walk around in public. Detectives were so impressed with how the technology identified unknown suspects and helped solve crimes that they pushed the top brass to shell out thousands of dollars a year to make facial recognition one of their permanent crime fighting tools. But Chief Larry Boone nixed their plan to have Norfolk police pay to use Clearview AI, an app made by a tech startup of the same name that’s been aggressively marketing its services to law enforcement. Boone told The Virginian-Pilot in a June interview that the public needed to know and talk about such a hot-button issue before police added it permanently to its investigative repertoire.
The Virginian-Pilot

Former Prince William County School Board chairman Ryan Sawyers has dropped the school board from his $2.3 million defamation lawsuit against Superintendent Steven Walts. Sawyers is continuing to sue Walts on allegations Walts defamed him in a video Walts posted to Twitter in May announcing he was shutting down his Twitter account. In his video, Walts said the complaints were launched by “a former school board member” who had “chosen to smear and slander [him] for purely political purposes.” Walts did not mention the former school board member by name but said he “was previously censured by the school board for his behavior.” Walts further said the person had “chosen to bully and attack PWCS students online” regarding Walts’ Twitter account.
Prince William Times
stories of national interest
A New Hampshire woman walked into a polling station Tuesday with a political T-shirt – but pulled it off in a flash of defiance and voted topless when officials told her campaign clothing was banned, according to local reports. The unidentified female entered an Exeter gymnasium with a shirt depicting President Trump and the late Sen. John McCain. “Boom! The shirt’s off,” town moderator Paul Scafidi told the outlet. “And she’s standing there saying, ‘How’s this?’”
Fox News
editorials & columns
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes, launched during the Civil War, needs to endure for a simple, compelling reason: This is America. The land of the free and the home of the brave. No other nation would produce a hybrid publication like this, a combination of all-American, First Amendment impulses and U.S. government support. Stars and Stripes has lately been on a roller coaster of shifting federal budget support and that really needs to stop. The paper does too much good for too many people for it not to be on a solid footing. The key to Stars and Stripes — why it is, what it does — has always centered on the initiative of America’s service men and women “over there” to produce and distribute independent journalism.
The Virginian-Pilot