Transparency News, 9/1/21


September 1, 2021
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state & local news stories
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and City Council members on Tuesday walked away from a meeting on low morale and staffing issues in the city’s Police Department after their lawyer told them it had to be made public. The council clerk’s office issued a public notice about the virtual gathering with a link to participate on the advice of acting City Attorney Haskell Brown, nine minutes after it started. Talks ended almost immediately. Stoney deflected questions about the incident at a news conference later Tuesday, saying the meeting was called by the City Council. Councilwoman Ellen Robertson of the 6th District called the meeting after reviewing a Police Department employee’s resignation letter, which detailed concerns about department leadership and the city’s human resources office, said Trammell, who provided Robertson with the letter. After several officials exited the virtual meeting shortly after the notice was sent, Robertson and acting Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders discussed the planned conversation, which was livestreamed through Microsoft Teams. It was unclear whether the meeting had formally adjourned at that stage.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Virginia State Police obtained seven months of a Virginia lawmaker’s Facebook records as part of an investigation into his campaign fundraising, according to court records. Police on April 29 received records of Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell, after filing a search warrant in Campbell County for his Facebook records. Fariss said Tuesday that he had returned money raised under questionable circumstances and has cooperated with the investigation. According to the warrant, police received a complaint about Fariss in October 2019 that included a copy of a news story from the Daily Progress in Charlottesville detailing how Fariss raised campaign money through a raffle. Virginia law makes it illegal for political organizations to raise money through raffles. “Because your request involves an elected official, state police is not able to comment,” police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said by email. 
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A retired Naval officer admitted in federal court in San Diego to sending a Malaysian defense contractor classified ship schedules for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet in exchange for more than $45,000 in bribes, including stays at luxury hotels. Retired Chief Warrant Officer Robert Gorsuch also admitted Tuesday in court that he set up a secret email account to help the ship servicing business of Leonard Francis. Prosecutors said the firm, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia and its owner, known by his nickname “Fat Leonard,” bribed Navy officers with fancy gifts, trips and prostitutes to provide classified information in order to beat competitors and overcharge for services. The scheme cost the Navy some $35 million. The case has resulted in federal criminal charges against 34 Navy officials, and defense contractors — some with ties to Norfolk — and the Glenn Defense Marine Asia corporation. So far, 26 of those have pleaded guilty.
The Virginian-Pilot

When student journalists at James Madison University pressed administrators for dorm-by-dorm data on Covid-19 cases last year, their requests were initially rebuffed. They later revealed that the data didn’t exist. During a hearing last week in a Virginia courtroom, the public university’s lawyer said James Madison wasn’t tracking positive cases per dorm before a fall-2020 outbreak, in which the campus’s positivity rate reached 60 percent. The revelation came in response to a lawsuit filed by Jake Conley, editor in chief of James Madison’s student newspaper, The Breeze. Conley has represented himself in the suit. “Without accurate and detailed information, it’s very hard for people to make informed public-health decisions for themselves, especially in the middle of the worst health crisis this country and world has seen in how long,” Conley said. The university had previously denied the student newspaper’s open-records requests for the Covid data per dorm, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law on health-care privacy, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law on the privacy of students’ education records. Vass said the 30-day delay would protect students’ privacy. Experts have previously told The Chronicle that colleges and universities are allowed to disclose Covid case numbers as long as they can’t lead a “reasonable person” to figure out the identities of students who have tested positive.
Chronicle of Higher Education (free account creation required)
stories from around the country
As [COVID-19] cases ballooned in August, however, the Florida Department of Health changed the way it reported death data to the CDC, giving the appearance of a pandemic in decline, an analysis of Florida data by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald found. On Monday, Florida death data would have shown an average of 262 daily deaths reported to the CDC over the previous week had the health department used its former reporting system, the Herald analysis showed. Instead, the Monday update from Florida showed just 46 “new deaths” per day over the previous seven days. The dramatic difference is due to a small change in the fine print. Until three weeks ago, data collected by DOH and published on the CDC website counted deaths by the date they were recorded — a common method for producing daily stats used by most states. On Aug. 10, Florida switched its methodology and, along with just a handful of other states, began to tally new deaths by the date the person died. If you chart deaths by Florida’s new method, based on date of death, it will generally appear — even during a spike like the present — that deaths are on a recent downslope. That’s because it takes time for deaths to be evaluated and death certificates processed. When those deaths finally are tallied, they are assigned to the actual data of death — creating a spike where there once existed a downslope and moving the downslope forward in time.