Transparency News 9/13/18



September 13, 2018


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state & local news stories


“The beautiful thing is that we can discuss things and no matter what happens (in closed session), we all seem to agree.”

For the first time in at least 20 years – possibly ever – the Dumfries Town Council voted Sept. 4 in closed session to remove Vice Mayor Brian Fields from that office. Fields, a former Dumfries police officer, has been on the council for two years. He had served as vice mayor for only two months, having been elected by his fellow councilmembers to the post after the new council was sworn in following the May 1 town election. Councilwoman Monae Nickerson was selected to replace Fields. She is likely the first black woman to hold that office in Dumfries. After returning to open session, the council did not state the reason Fields was replaced. Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood said he could not comment on matters discussed in closed session but he noted it was a unanimous decision. “The beautiful thing is that we can discuss things and no matter what happens (in closed session), we all seem to agree,” Wood said. “That shows the difference in this council from what people have seen in the past in Dumfries. We are creating a shared vision with this council.”
Prince William Times

After the court-ordered removal of Shaun Brown's name from the Nov. 6 congressional ballot for fraudulent signatures and phony addresses, can the petitions of other 2018 federal candidates be rechecked for accuracy? Depends on who you're asking about. For example, in the 2nd Congressional District election, it's too late to check Rep. Scott Taylor's original petitions. Republican officials have already shredded them. The petitions of his Democratic rival, Elaine Luria, are still in the possession of a party leader who likely will keep them for a couple of years. But Luria's petitions are private Democratic Party documents and not subject to state open records law. They can only be seen if party leaders agree to share them. Meanwhile, petitions filed by independents like Brown and third-party candidates like Matt Waters, a Libertarian running for U.S. Senate, are publicly available documents that eventually will be permanently stored in the Library of Virginia.
Daily Press

An effort by VDOT representatives to brief the Leesburg Town Council on a new design concept for the Rt. 7/Battlefield Parkway Interchange was rejected Tuesday night. Council members refused to go into closed session to hear a presentation about an alternative design proposed by one of three contractor teams bidding on the $58 million project. The VDOT review team was seeking feedback about whether the council objected to the alternative before the contracting team spent money pursuing the concept in greater detail. VDOT Program Manager Tina Briganti-Dunn told the council that the state’s design-build program allows contractors to propose alternative approaches to the project. In this case, the plans involve information deemed proprietary that could not be discussed in open session. After a months-long public process to build agreement on the project, council members raised concerns about potentially approving or endorsing changes to the interchange design behind closed doors and then not being able to discuss or present the changes with constituents.
Loudoun Now

The newly elected Norfolk School Board has reversed course on a previous board’s decision to sue the educational foundation whose former director now serves as the board’s vice chairman. The decision to drop the lawsuit – filed after unsuccessful requests by the previous board for an audit of the Norfolk Education Foundation’s finances following the discovery of outstanding bills – wasn’t unanimous and came only after multiple private, closed-session discussions for the past two months. An attorney for the foundation, Andy Protogyrou, had asked the new School Board to dismiss the case after they took office in July. Since the new members have been seated, there have been several hourslong closed-door conversations discussing how to proceed. From the public waiting room, raised voices have been heard and the clerk was instructed to turn on a classical music radio station to drown out the debate. During a Viola Concerto in D Major, members heard talking over one another were gaveled to silence.
The Virginian-Pilot


national stories of interest

Terry Mutchler, the former and inaugural executive director of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records, will soon have another credential to add to her long list of achievements: Hall of Famer. Her work in government transparency that began as a newspaper reporter and spans four decades has earned her a place in the National Freedom of Information Coalition's State Open Government Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony takes place on Sept. 22 during the 2018 FOI Summit in Cincinnati.

Texas law aimed at making it easier to dismiss meritless lawsuits intended to chill speech should apply in federal court, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 39 media organizations argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed last week in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the brief filed in Rudkin v. Roger Beasley Imports, Inc., the media coalition urges the federal appeals court to reverse a district court's ruling and hold that the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) applies in federal court. 
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press




editorials & columns


"Private and public connections that become too close risk the appearance, if not the actuality, that an official misuses his public position for private gain — or vice versa."

State law regarding conflict of interest seeks to prevent doubts about fair play and misuse of power that can arise when public duties and private business interests are intermixed. Public officials often must negotiate a very narrow path to avoid conflict of interest — especially in smaller jurisdictions where work, public service and private life are inevitably intermingled. When public officials are deeply enmeshed in the lives of their communities and the fortunes of those communities’ businesses, they get firsthand experience of the consequences of their decisions as leaders of government; those decisions should be smarter and better informed as a result. But the same community participation that produces this benefit also carries a disadvantage: Private and public connections that become too close risk the appearance, if not the actuality, that an official misuses his public position for private gain — or vice versa.
The Daily Progress