Transparency News, 9/15/2022


September 15, 2022

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state & local news stories


Gov. Glenn Youngkin left Virginia a dozen times for personal or political travel between March and August, according to public records obtained by VPM News. The records show a governor on the move, with stops ranging from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to the Bahamas. Costs from his Virginia State Police security detail totaled about $18,400 for the trips. Neither the destinations nor costs are unprecedented. During a similar time frame of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s term in 2014, the Democrat traveled to Turks and Caicos Islands, Nantucket and the Hamptons, according to public records provided by Virginia State Police.  The Youngkin administration previously blocked the release of his nonpublic calendar, so VPM News also sought records from VSP, which travels with Virginia governors to provide protection.

The first Battle of Pageland Lane ended in favor of landowners, but both sides will regroup before the final decisive battle. Early Thursday morning, the Prince William County Planning Commission voted 4-3-1 to recommend approval of the first application for the controversial PW Digital Gateway. The vote came after a nearly 7-hour marathon public hearing, easily among the longest in county history. It started at 10 p.m. Wednesday and didn’t wrap up until 4:34 a.m. Thursday. The commission did not cast a vote until after 5 a.m. More than 220 people signed up to speak, but 85 dropped off before their slot as the hearing stretched well into the morning. By 2:30 a.m., only a small but dedicated core of supporters and opponents remained to watch the proceedings.

A Hanover County School Board member is accused of violating federal student privacy law and could be removed from office as a result. Hanover County Attorney Dennis Walter on Wednesday evening gave a presentation to the Board of Supervisors about the legal process to remove appointed School Board members from office. Walter said the public raised concerns about improper conduct by a School Board member including the violation of a federal student privacy law. In February, School Board Chair John Axselle reached out to the conservative legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom through his personal email, according to records obtained by The Times-Dispatch. Parts of the emails were redacted due to public record law exemptions. Allegations of the violation of privacy laws stem from emails sent from a School Board member to ADF, supervisors said Wednesday.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

After City Council elections in Portsmouth, the council members divvy up who’s going to serve on the 20 or so boards and commissions that involve city business. But a Virginian-Pilot review found that council members’ overall meeting attendance since then has been spotty. Councilman Mark Whitaker almost never goes to his meetings, while three others show up around a quarter of the time or less. Council members have the worst attendance record at the Planning Commission, the Redevelopment and Housing Authority, the Ports and Industrial Commission and the Parking Authority meetings; they’ve been to a quarter or less of them in 2021 and 2022.
The Virginian-Pilot

Sands Anderson, the Richmond law firm that has been acting as general legal counsel to the Spotsylvania County School Board, has withdrawn its representation effective immediately. Attorney Bradford King communicated the information verbally to the School Board on Monday and in a letter sent to board members Tuesday. The School Board retained King as general legal counsel in January, after criminal defense attorney John Spencer ended his weeklong legal representation. The board appointed Spencer as its attorney at its first meeting in January, during which Kirk Twigg was elected chair and former superintendent Scott Baker was fired without cause.
The Free Lance-Star

What began as a second reading of a proposed revision to the Gloucester School Board closed meetings policy devolved into an impassioned argument among board members, resulting in a vote of 5-2 to accept the revision at the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday night held in the T.C. Walker Education Center Auditorium. Concerns over information from closed meetings being leaked to the public prompted school board member Robin Rice to propose a policy change to clarify that such information should not be shared publicly in any way, including by verbal discussion or recording, since items discussed in closed meetings are confidential. At the start of discussion, board member Randy Burak said that he would like to take the policy a step further by mandating that no personal recording devices be allowed to enter the closed meetings space, as he stated at last month’s meeting.
Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal


stories of national interest

A court has rejected a lawsuit seeking to force the public disclosure of federal records about a 2018 episode in which a gun belonging to President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was allegedly thrown in a trash can. In a ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras found that the public interest in the handling of any investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives into the episode was “significant,” but that the importance of Hunter Biden’s privacy as a private citizen outweighed the value of releasing any such records to the public.