Transparency News, 9/13/21


September 13, 2021
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state & local news stories

After reviewing the evidence presented in the Conley v. JMU hearing Aug. 26, Judge Bruce Albertson has issued a ruling denying The Breeze’s Editor-in-chief Jake Conley’s petition for a writ of mandamus. In a letter explaining the verdict, Albertson said the university hadn’t violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). When it comes to the requests for daily positive student tests broken down by dormitory, Judge Albertson said it’d be easy to identify specific individuals if this data was made public. Because students who test positive are placed in the isolation dormitory for 10-14 days, Judge Albertson said someone could simply connect an individual’s prolonged absence to the data and identify them as COVID-19 positive.
The Breeze

Two days after Hopewell’s city attorney told the City Council she was resigning, she revised her contract. The changes, subject to council approval, would allow Sandra Robinson to be compensated for more than 100 hours of unused paid time off. Hopewell Mayor Patience Bennett signed off. The council voted to approve the edits, despite not knowing how much money she would receive. Some council members remain concerned over the undisclosed dollar amount. One initially took legal action. “This is taxpayers’ money. I needed to know an amount,” said Councilor Janice Denton, who filed an injunction in Hopewell General District Court over a vote she found improper.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Loudoun County School Board member Beth Barts on Friday published a Facebook post calling into question the board's selection process to fill a seat that was left vacant following the death of board member Leslee King on August 31. "I had assumed a special election would be held since the end of the current term is so far off," Barts wrote. "This could have been requested but was not. It seems so strange to me that we are being asked to pick a district representative for a community not made up our own constituents." In her post, Barts cited the appointment process of former board member Chris Croll, who was appointed to represent the Catoctin district in 2018. "The process was transparent and open during the public interviews and hearing," Barts wrote. "In my opinion as someone simply watching in the audience, that transparency ended when the board went into closed session to discuss and chose a representative. I have inquired and been advised that this is not a requirement but a choice."
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Loudoun County School Board member Beth Barts has been ordered to appear in Loudoun County Circuit Court on Monday at 9 a.m., according an order signed by Chief Judge Douglas L. Fleming on Sept. 3. Barts has been ordered to appear to show cause why she should not be removed from office based on the “enumerated charges” brought forth the group of Loudoun County residents known as the Citizens of the Leesburg District.
Loudoun Times-Mirror

Discussions, and arguments, broke out between Williamsburg-James City County School Board members Tuesday night as to how to handle public comment periods following speakers’ behavior at its previous meeting. Residents filled the Stryker Center on Aug. 18 and addressed the board on its mask policy. Several requested the board defy state policy and not require students to wear masks. School Board members discussed, and argued, often speaking over one another during the 3.5-hour meeting, despite requests to stop, about how to address the recently arisen problems moving forward which was the primary focus of the meeting. Board Chair Jim Kelly opened the discussion on public comments by explaining he failed to control the situation because he did not think it could have been contained. Additionally, he said the board did not develop a plan beforehand. But several members said the School Board has policies in place to prevent things from getting out of hand. These policies include calling a recess, removing people who are not in compliance, limiting public comments to three minutes per individual and allocating 30 minutes of public comment per meeting.
The Virginia Gazette

Halifax County Chief Animal Warden Todd Moser is the target of a Virginia State Police probe into an alleged embezzling scheme that has been ongoing for five years, according to an email County Administrator Scott Simpson sent this week to members of the Board of Supervisors. State Police executed a search warrant at the county animal shelter on Wednesday, looking for evidence of embezzlement, Simpson informed supervisors via email Wednesday evening. The county administrator advised members of the Board of Supervisors to “have NO COMMENT on the situation,”suggesting that if asked, supervisors invoke policy on not commenting on personnel matters, and direct all inquiries to Virginia State Police.
Mecklenburg Sun

After saying that School Board member Sherri Story had harassed principals at two city schools and entered others without proper administrative escorts in the past week, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III has called for a mediation session between the two of them. Gordon asked during the board’s Sept. 9 meeting that board chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck to be a witness and possible mediator during the session, and she suggested that board attorney Wendell Waller also be a part of the mediation. Gordon said he was concerned about what he described as Story’s continued violation of norms and protocols. Gordon wants the meeting with Story and Brooks-Buck “to resolve some of these issues,” but said he is concerned for himself and the other principals that there will be “some level of retaliation.” At 9:30 a.m. Sept. 14, a FOIA case involving Deborah Wahlstrom, a friend of Story’s and a former board candidate, will be heard in Suffolk Circuit Court. Wahlstrom has accused Gordon, Brooks-Buck and other board members of violating the act by denying her access to an open meeting.
Suffolk News-Herald
stories from around the country
Social media hasn’t always been a friend to government, but a creative approach to storytelling by the city of Arlington, Texas, proves that the nation’s most dominant social media channel can be a great place to engage citizens. A YouTube video about the city’s budget has become a viral hit, amassing more than 700,000 views to date. Build, Unite, Create: Using LEGO Bricks to Explain Arlington's FY2022 Budget was shot using stop-motion animation in a LEGO reconstruction of the city built by Jay Matthews, its director of communication and legislative affairs. “Some of the LEGOs that were used date back to my childhood in the '80s,” says Matthews. “Fortunately, my mother didn’t get rid of those things, and when I was able to get them and start building again, I did.”