Transparency News, 9/14/21


September 14, 2021
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state & local news stories
Speaking to an audience of about 30 in the Rockingham County Administrative Offices on Monday, the county’s schools’ superintendent said future school board meetings would meet in similar non-school venues to help diffuse tension about masks.  Oskar Scheikl, the Rockingham County school superintendent, said by not holding the meetings in school buildings, where masks are required, the board can continue to conduct business in public and all those interested can attend.  “It’s become a very political issue and we just want to avoid that conflict,” Scheikl told The Citizen in an interview after the meeting.
Harrisonburg Citizen

Officials with the city of Bristol, Virginia, announced upcoming limitations at all city council, board and commission meetingsdue to COVID-19. A press release cites the increased community spread of the virus as regional health care systems experience surges and shortages within facilities. Participants at city meetings will now be limited to 18 people per meeting, and face masks will be required. For those unable to make it in person, a live stream will be available with the option to submit public comments.

A scheduled interview between 10 On Your Side and the newly sworn Portsmouth police chief was abruptly canceled on Monday after the department learned that Andy Fox would be conducting the interview. 10 On Your Side's executive producer of investigations reached out to the Portsmouth Police Department's Public Information Officer Victoria Varnedoe on Monday to confirm that Andy Fox would conduct the interview at Prince's office. Varnedoe responded that the department would prefer a different reporter speak with the chief. Fox and the executive producer of investigations went to Prince's office at the scheduled interview time, but, through Varnedoe, the chief refused to participate in the interview. Fox asked Varnedoe why the chief canceled the interview, but she declined to provide Fox with that information.
stories from around the country
More than a decade after Barbara Hamburg was murdered outside her Madison (Connecticut) home, the fight over whether the public should have access to the investigation into her death is continuing to escalate — a fight that could have broad implications for access to cold case files across Connecticut. The Madison Police Department is appealing a state judge’s order that it must turn over its investigative files on Hamburg’s 2010 murder to a pair of documentary filmmakers, including Hamburg’s son, who examined the investigation in the hit HBO miniseries “Murder on Middle Beach.” Madison Hamburg and producer Anike Niemeyer had requested the files while filming the series and were summarily denied by the department. They successfully appealed to the Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission, which ruled last year the police department had to turn over its files free of charge to the pair. The police department initially provided two boxes of materials to the filmmakers late last year — which the pair said were incomplete — before the department reversed course and appealed the commission’s decision in Superior Court.
Hartford Courant

Last month, New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee did something that we believe no other legislative committee in the U.S. has done to date: It launched a “PerformanceStat” initiative. It’s an experiment that bears watching by lawmaking bodies everywhere, as well as by advocates of evidence-based government at every level. New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee adapted the PerformanceStat approach to a legislative context, dubbing it “LegisStat.” Instead of a mayor or governor running the meeting, the leadership team was the joint House-Senate committee itself, led by the committee chair. The broader goal of launching LegisStat was to change the dynamic of the typical committee hearing, which is often dominated by lengthy agency presentations. That leaves little time for questions by committee members, including efforts to get at the most important performance problems and trends.
editorials & opinion
Last week a Rockingham County Circuit Judge ruled in favor of James Madison University in a case brought by the editor of JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze, over the access to the per-day number of COVID-positive cases per on-campus residence. Armchair-quarterback that I am, I’ve read the ruling, which is posted at the bottom of this post (h/t to the paper’s editor and faculty adviser), and probably unsurprisingly, I disagree.
Megan Rhyne, VCOG's Substack Newsletter

We know a bit more this week about Martinsville’s plan to revert from a city to a town in Henry County. But there are some things we likely never will know. The attorneys hired by the city and county should be commended. They have done a thorough job and pieced together documents that appear to address the most tangible issues of process, facilities and structure. Yet, that isn’t the whole story. First, the hard and fast: Some city officials appear so wed to this idea that the outcome is almost inevitable, with the go-live date the only business left to be completed. Citizens who spoke at the public hearing decried a process that left out their voices until the very last and probably fruitless minutes. At the public hearings, both Tammy Pearson, new to city council since the original votes, and Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles expressed some concern reversion, although for quite different reasons. Said Pearson: “I was not on council when they voted for reversion, and I voted ‘no’ because our city has not been transparent. Council didn’t meet with the city schools and did not get enough citizen input.” Said Bowles: “So much misinformation is being shared by the speakers tonight. Personally, I’m opposed to reversion, but personal feelings aside, you have to do what’s best for everyone.” We wonder what the “misinformation” might be, because most of what was said was by people who were paid to gather information and share it. Whether this is “what’s best” remains to be seen.
Martinsville Bulletin