Transparency News, 9/11/20


 September 11, 2020
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state & local news stories
"That will probably also mean that when someone comes to speak before the board, you need to be sure that they give you their address to make sure that they even have standing.”
Weeks before Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene made the unusual decision to file felony charges against more than a dozen people in connection with a June 10 protest at the city’s downtown Confederate monument, two council members emailed her “requesting that charges be brought against” demonstrators. The emails by Bill Moody and Elizabeth Psimas, who are white, could violate a city charter provision barring council members from giving orders to department heads. It’s the same charter section a Black council member, Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, is accused of violating by calling for Greene’s removal. “I am requesting that the law be enforced,” Moody wrote. Psimas replied to the group four minutes later to express agreement. The Virginian-Pilot obtained the emails this week.
The Virginian-Pilot

At the start of what would end as a roughly six-hour school board meeting Wednesday, two board members walked out the door. One refused to wear a mask, citing medical reasons. The other was her ride. Following an extended argument — and vote — the board decided Laura Hughes could not stay and participate in the meeting without proper documentation. The board has an established rule requiring the wearing of masks. “We would just like to stick to the rule right now and hopefully by the time of the next meeting there will be paperwork submitted and this will be resolved,” said Carolyn Rye, the school board’s chair. Hughes and fellow board member Victoria Manning later participated via Zoom.
The Virginian-Pilot

Exactly four years to the month of its filing in September 2016, Judge Designate Jeffrey W. Parker of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Virginia has awarded attorney David Konick $6,250 of the $132,769.46 in attorney’s fees he claims he’s owed in representing Marian Bragg v. The Board of Supervisors of Rappahannock County. “There were numerous issues upon which the Petitioner [Bragg] failed to prevail, including but not limited to disqualification of Respondents' co-counsel (2 times), landfill improvements, personal liability of Board members and others,” observed Judge Parker in an August 27, 2020 letter to Konick, Rappahannock County Attorney Arthur L. Goff, and Washington private attorney Michael T. Brown, the latter two representing the county government and taxpayers. “Therefore, the Court will grant the Petitioner 25 hours in attorney's fees at his going rate of $250/hour (which the Court finds reasonable) totaling $6,250.00 plus $4.00 in costs equaling $6,254.00 to be paid within 30 days from entry of the Order, less $200.00 in unpaid discovery charges. The Court directs Respondents counsel to prepare the appropriate Order.”
Rappahannock News

The Suffolk School Board will consider a policy Sept. 10 that appears to limit comment at its meetings to only city residents, rather than anyone regardless of residency status. The proposed policies governing public speakers during its two comment periods would change from “members of the community” or “general public” to “members of the Suffolk community.” “That will probably also mean that when someone comes to speak before the board, you need to be sure that they give you their address,” board attorney Wendell Waller said, “to make sure that they even have standing.” 
Suffolk News-Herald

A battle between parents at an elite northern Virginia high school and education officials who want to dramatically overhaul the school’s admissions process to make it more inclusive is growing more intense, with a clash between the school’s PTA and the state’s education secretary. Parents at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology are fighting efforts from Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, who organized a task force to evaluate diversity issues at TJ and 18 other magnet schools in Virginia designated as “Governor’s Schools.” The PTA says Qarni falsely accused one of its members, Asra Nomani, of being part of an anti-Muslim hate group after she published a column criticizing efforts to overhaul the process. Qarni has barred the school’s PTA from a participatory role in an upcoming “listening session” on the admissions issue. “There’s just too many red flags,” Qarni said on his decision to deny Nomani a speaking role at the listening session.
Associated Press

The Virginia Senate unanimously voted Thursday to set limits on orders of one the state’s top health officials — a bill fueled in part by frustration over the lack of transparency on outbreaks of COVID-19 in nursing homes throughout much of the pandemic. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, would limit the duration of executive orders from the health commissioner to 30 days unless the state’s Board of Health voted to extend them.  Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said bipartisan support of the legislation was fueled at least in part by the administration’s decision to withhold information on nursing homes and assisted living facilities with outbreaks of COVID-19 (a policy that was suddenly reversed in June). A month earlier, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the nondisclosure policy — which attracted strong criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers — was “based on guidance from the Virginia commissioner of health.”
Virginia Mercury
stories of national interest
"The result is a mix of differing daily and weekly reports and digital dashboards at school districts across Florida, with some counties not reporting any data to the general public."
Florida school districts are defying Gov. Ron DeSantis and publicly reporting new Covid-19 cases among students and staff that the state government considers confidential. The state Department of Health has tried to directly quash reporting on the virus in some instances, after DeSantis said K-12 testing data “needs to be put in the right context.” With no statewide standard, local leaders are left to decide on their own how and when to report Covid-19 cases in their districts. The result is a mix of differing daily and weekly reports and digital dashboards at school districts across Florida, with some counties not reporting any data to the general public.

A court order allowing certain people to take their address out of public records does not mean they can hide it when they run for office, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The justices, however, agreed to let this one slide and permit state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, to seek a second term in the Arizona House even though she listed a mailing address on the spot on the nomination papers where it asks for a street address. Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, writing for the court, said her “erroneous” entry on the papers was not done with the intent to defraud voters. It also just so happens she is the wife of one of their colleagues. But the justices in Tuesday’s ruling made it clear that anyone who tries this in the future — including Bolick — “flirts with disqualification.”
Arizona Daily Star


editorials & columns
"When it comes to the public’s right to know, the commonwealth ranks citizens below government and businesses."
If open-government advocates have their way in Richmond, relatives of crime victims and the news media may finally learn more details about a host of violent incidents – many that are several years old and votes of the State Parole Board will be pulled into the light of day. It’s way overdue. When it comes to the public’s right to know, the commonwealth ranks citizens below government and businesses.  This dismissive practice has been a pet peeve of mine since I landed in Virginia 23 years ago. Other states don’t treat their residents with such scorn. Too often, government officials default to a stance where they’ll only release information that they’re forced to by law. Whenever discretion is an option, they’ll almost always use protections in the state’s loophole-ridden Freedom of Information Act to keep details secret.  “This is our policy” to omit info is a typical response I’ve gotten from agencies when I’ve sought more facts, usually following a sparse police news release. 
Roger Chesley, Virginia Mercury