Transparency News, 9/16/20


 September 16, 2020
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state & local news stories
The majority of Virginia’s local school districts started the year remotely. But as divisions across the state weigh a return to in-person learning over the next few weeks, the Virginia Department of Health is still providing limited information on COVID-19 cases linked to K-12 schools.  At a news conference Tuesday, Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said the department had no plans to launch a dashboard with site-specific data on school outbreaks— similar to the state’s data on nursing homes and assisted living centers, which since June, has identified the names of facilities with outbreaks of disease. “We will certainly keep track of those outbreaks,” Oliver added, referring to multiple cases at K-12 schools. The state’s Department of Education also doesn’t track cases or outbreaks at individual schools, according to the agency’s spokesman, Charles Pyle.
Virginia Mercury

Two U.S. Park Police officers say they gave “chance after chance” to a northern Virginia man in a stop-and-go police chase before firing 10 shots that killed the unarmed driver in 2017, according to court records. Documents made public late Monday in a civil suitfiled by the parents of 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar of McLean provide the first real insight into the thought process of officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, who shot and killed Ghaisar. The Ghaisar family’s lawyers and the government each filed papers asking a judge to grant summary judgment in their favor without having a trial. Most of the Ghaisar family’s arguments, though, are redacted from the public record. In an opening statement in their papers, the lawyers say the case “presents a shocking story of unwarranted and unexplained police violence.” In a statement Tuesday, one of the family’s lawyers, Roy Austin, blasted the government for making the officer statements public, saying he believes it violates legal procedures and a protective order imposed by the judge.
Associated Press

The Suffolk School Board has voted to appeal a Circuit Court decision that it and some of its members violated the Freedom of Information Act. During its Sept. 10 meeting, the board voted 5-1 to appeal the verdict, with Sherri Story, who sued the board accusing it of multiple FOIA violations, the lone no vote. Board Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum was absent due to an illness in her family. The vote ratified the notice of appeal filed with Suffolk Circuit Court and authorized the law firm of Sullivan Collins Law Group “to take all necessary steps to prosecute an appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.” School board attorney Wendell Waller said there is no cost to the school division or a deductible for the case or the appeal because it is covered by its insurance carrier. “All of the costs for the legal fees is paid by VRSA (Virginia Risk Sharing Association),” Waller said.
Suffolk News-Herald

A Virginia Beach Public Schools board member was voted out of a school board meeting by fellow board members on Sept. 9. Now, she’s arguing she was in line with the Virginia Public Schools policy on wearing masks. Attorney Gary Byler won’t confirm whether he’s going to court on this matter, but he says he very well could while representing Virginia Beach School Board member Laura Hughes. “It is problematic for me to wear a mask for an extended period of time. I don’t have an issue for just a moment just to walk by people quickly. I don’t want to tell you what the medical condition is, but I shouldn’t have to reveal that anyway.”  During the Sept. 9 meeting, board members asked her to provide documentation so accommodations could be made for her at future meetings. She has refused to submit the required medical exemption to allow her to not wear a mask, and claims she was too busy. 
stories of national interest

Famed attorney and Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz filed a defamation suit against CNN on Tuesday seeking $300 million for what he called a "willful, deliberate, malicious effort to destroy my credibility." Famed attorney and Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz filed a defamation suit against CNN on Tuesday seeking $300 million for what he called a "willful, deliberate, malicious effort to destroy my credibility." The constitutional scholar alleges in the lawsuit that the news outlet propagated a “sea of lies” by re-airing only part of his quote, which he believes was part of a deliberate effort "from the very top" to frame him for claiming “that the President of the United States could commit illegal acts as long as he thought it would help his reelection and that his reelection was in the public interest," The Wrap reported. "If they had just shown the part where I said if he does anything illegal he can be impeached -- Dershowitz trailed off, "but they doctored the tape to take that out."
Fox News

Legal watchdog group American Oversight filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Postal Service in a bid to view Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s calendar after a Freedom Of Information Act request was denied, as critics raise concerns about the controversial postmaster general’s potential contacts with the Trump administration and campaign and his continued ties to the private sector.

In early June, as American cities reeled withangry protests over the death of George Floyd, police commanders in Rochester, New York, were trying hard to prevent the very similar death of Daniel Prude from going public. In a 325-page cache of documents released Monday by City Hall about the city’s handling — and mishandling — of the Prude case, the arguments by police to suppress the video that showed his death were among the most compelling. Many of the documents touch on actions by leadership in the police department and suggest police actively worked to conceal what had happened. The documents were released Monday as Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced she was relieving Police Chief La'Ron Singletary of his command and suspending two other top officials.
USA Today


editorials & columns
Health officials understood early in the pandemic that highly populated indoor spaces would be ground zero for transmission, knowledge that helped guide safety protocols for schools, long-term care facilities and prisons. But when poultry plants on Virginia’s Eastern Shore began reporting outbreaks, state health officials were cautious to react. Worse, they kept from the public data that would have provided a clearer picture of the dire situation unfolding there. Sen. Lynwood Lewis, who represents the Eastern Shore, introduced legislation to improve disclosure requirements, but the Senate Education and Health Committee declined to act on it during the special session. However, the need for greater transparency remains very much alive.
Daily Press

Charlottesville City Manager Tarron Richardson was hired in a process that was notable for its openness: Top candidates were interviewed by City Council in public so that residents could get a firsthand understanding of the man or woman who might fill this important position. That Mr. Richardson’s tenure was then fraught with dissension is a disappointment: We had hoped the open process would increase the city’s chances of hiring a candidate who was a good fit for the position. Mr. Richardson’s tenure also has been marked by an unusual level of discord — not just the pre-existing turbulence around him, but also disputes with other city employees, leading to their resignations, and even dissension with the City Council that employs him. Two of the most prominent resignations were those of then Deputy City Manager Mike Murphy and Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter. Mr. Baxter directly cited Mr. Richardson’s behavior as the reason he, and many other employees, were leaving, according to an email obtained by The Daily Progress via a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. 
The Daily Progress