Transparency News, 9/14/20


 September 14, 2020
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state & local news stories
"A letter written Friday and signed by 16 nonprofit and political leaders asked the board to put its Sept. 18 meeting online and to allow for public comment."
VCOG's Virtual Conference, Sept. 10, brought together more than a dozen knowledgeable and informative speakers for EIGHT different discussions, the most we've ever put together in one conference. Of course, we missed the networking and socializing (not to mention our traditional morning coffee and fresh donuts), but it was heartening to "see" so many folks virtually. Want to know what you missed? Visit the conference website, which includes video from six of the panels.

Many thanks to our panelists, our audience, and most of all: OUR SPONSORS! Their faith and generosity allowed us to move forward with our mission in an uncertain time.


James Madison University agreed late Friday to provide live online video of its board of visitors meeting next week, responding to pressure from advocates who objected to the board’s plan to meet in person without video after sending students home because of a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff. A letter written Friday and signed by 16 nonprofit and political leaders asked the board to put its Sept. 18 meeting online and to allow for public comment. James Toscano, a co-author of the letter and the president of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, said the timing of the meeting gave the appearance that JMU’s board of visitors was being less than forthright. The second co-author of the letter was Megan Rhyne, executive director of Virginia Coalition for Open Government. Not allowing students to participate in a board of visitors meeting at a time when JMU is making such influential decisions, Rhyne said, disregarded students interests and concerns.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

A bill that would open past police investigative files to the public sailed through the Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday. Sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg and other lawmakers, the legislation to amend the state’s open records law passed on a 59-37 vote. Though it was mostly a party line vote carried by Democrats, five Republicans crossed over to support the bill. It could come up for Senate hearings next week. If it becomes law, the measure could begin to end state law enforcement agencies’ longstanding practice of shielding nearly all their files from the public — whether they are incident reports from last week or case files that haven’t been looked at in decades. “We oppose efforts to make criminal investigative files public without law enforcement’s discretion,” Dana G. Schrad, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Daily Press last week.
Daily Press

Virginia’s largest school system is investigating an alleged cyber attack on its technology systems. Fairfax County Public Schools said that it recently learned that ransomware was placed on some of its technology systems. Ransomware essentially holds a target computer or computer system hostage by encrypting its files and demanding payment. “We currently believe we may have been victimized by cyber criminals who have been connected to dozens of ransomware attacks in other school systems and corporations worldwide. We are coordinating with the FBI on the matter,” Fairfax County schools said in a statement Friday. Infosecurity Magazine reported that the threat group MAZE has claimed responsibility for the attack, and said that the group has “uploaded a zip file of data they claim was exfiltrated from the school system.”

There were major fireworks before and during Thursday night's Staunton City Council meeting that have set social media talking. The biggest one is that City Attorney Doug Guynn resigned. He had copies of his letter ready for councilors, which he passed out after a work session. Guynn also simultaneously emailed two members who attended via video. He sent his resignation letter to Carolyn Dull and Brenda Mead at 6:36 p.m., after a work session but before the general City Council meeting. Guynn resigned on principle because Staunton's new conservative majority didn't want to continue a years-long pursuit of a homeowner for what Staunton said was flouting of municipal law about constructing private walls, according to one elected official, Mead. The majority voted to significantly alter the published agenda for the meeting, without apparently consulting the other three elected councilors.
News Leader


editorials & columns
"The department claims that giving us this information would 'expose the victims and their families to unnecessary additional trauma.' In reality, we have been re-traumatized by the secrecy."
As the Virginia legislature takes up policing reform during the special session, transparency should be the starting point. Lawmakers should pass House Bill 5090, sponsored by Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, to stop law enforcement agencies from withholding investigative records under the Freedom of Information Act. Both of us lost family members in the Virginia Beach mass shooting. The Virginia Beach Police Department has investigated the shooting but refuses to grant our FOIA requests for its complete investigative findings. Virginia’s FOIA law gives police and sheriffs almost total discretion on whether or not to disclose these records. The department claims that giving us this information would “expose the victims and their families to unnecessary additional trauma.” In reality, we have been re-traumatized by the secrecy. 
Jason Nixon and Debbie Borato, The Virginian-Pilot