Transparency News, 9/19/2022


September 19, 2022

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state & local news stories

"'Deputies have been put in situations on numerous occasions that go above and beyond the normal scope for security of public meetings,' Major Troy Skebo wrote in a statement."

Virginia State Police officers incurred $18,376.93 of expenses through August as Gov. Glenn Youngkin traveled out of state for unofficial business — but none of that was for trips to support Republican political candidates. The expenses, for eight trips between March and August described as personal, covered Executive Protection Unit officers’ travel expenses, reported state police in response to a Freedom of Information Act requestfrom the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The governor reimbursed the EPU expenses for his political trips when the officers incurred travel costs because of overnight stays. The listed expenses for security officers — reimbursed or not — do not include the officers’ salaries, said state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Within five minutes of the start of the Spotsylvania School Board meeting Friday evening, multiple board members were shouting at one another. Within the next five minutes, a board member’s attempt to speak was repeatedly interrupted by another member loudly saying, “It’s disgusting,” and, “Shame on you,” and, “Shame, shame, shame.” The chaos came as the Spotsylvania County School Board met for one of their most important decisions: choosing the next leader for the public schools in the Virginia district. And it encapsulated a dramatic shift at many such meetings across the country, in which once-sleepy, well-mannered procedural meetings have become flash points for communities polarized over cultural issues such as parental and transgender rights. The deeply divided board voted Friday to offer a contract for superintendent after several weeks of turmoil, including several volatile meetings.
The Washington Post

The Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office will no longer provide security at local school board meetings, citing concerns over freedom of expression for county citizens. The sheriff's office confirmed the authenticity of a letter that was hand-delivered to the school board offices on Wednesday, Sept. 14, which states that beginning on Oct. 14, sheriff's deputies will no longer provide security at school board meetings. "Our deputies on numerous occasions have been put in a position to side with one or more members regarding 'disruptive' citizens," Sheriff Roger Harris wrote. According to the sheriff's office, deputies have been called on by board members to perform actions that may interfere with fundamental rights of county residents. "It is the Sheriff’s opinion that our Deputies have been put in situations on numerous occasions that go above and beyond the normal scope for security of public meetings," Major Troy Skebo wrote in a statement to 8News. "To include freedom of expression and participation in the public hearings."

Richmond resident Jeffrey Thomas Jr. has filed a lawsuit against the University’s Board of Visitors alleging that the Freedom and Information Act Office has failed to produce records for a request for documents from Board member Bert Ellis in a timely manner. In his petition, Thomas says that he requested text messages from Ellis “related to his public service” Aug. 22.  Thomas added that the University responded Aug. 31 — six working days after the request was filed — and asked for an extension until Sept. 7, which Thomas granted.  By Sept. 8, Thomas said he hadn’t heard from the FOIA office and reached back out — they once again requested an extension until Sept. 16, which Thomas declined. Thomas gave the office three working days notice that he would be filing the lawsuit, and did so Sept. 13.  The FOIA office did not respond to a request for comment. 
The Cavalier Daily

The Prince William County School Board is seeking court intervention to stop its former chair from continuing to subpoena members for documents in his defamation lawsuit against the former superintendent.  In two scathing motions, attorneys for the board and former Superintendent Steven Walts asked a judge to stop the latest subpoena issued by former Board Chair Ryan Sawyers’ attorney and to sanction Sawyers and his counsel.  Sawyers, who served as chair from 2016 to 2018, is suing Walts over comments the then-superintendent made in a video posted on Twitter in May 2020. The video in question was posted after the school system received complaints regarding more than 20,000 private Twitter messages between Walts and students.  Sawyers’ attorneys issued a subpoena to current Board Chair Babur Lateef on Aug. 19 seeking a slew of documents the school system has resisted releasing publicly.
Inside NoVa

Former Halifax County Chief Animal Warden Todd Moser pleaded guilty to two felony counts of embezzlement in a Friday appearance in Prince Edward Circuit Court, setting the stage for a potential prison sentence following the completion of a court pre-sentence report. Moser was accused of stealing public funds in his official capacity as Halifax County’s chief animal warden, a post that he resigned from after the allegations against him became public in September 2021. Moser also was a member of the Halifax County School Board at the time, resigning his seat soon after the embezzlement allegations were first published in the News & Record.
News & Record

stories of national interest

"The report 'does not qualify as a public record subject to the common law right of public access' because although it was part of the committee’s investigation, it was aimed at gathering information and did not make recommendations."

The U.S. Senate does not have to release its full report detailing the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation and detention program following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a federal judge ruled Thursday. Journalist Shawn Musgrave sought the 6,700-page document, citing a “common law right of access” to public records. The legal argument is conceptually similar to the Freedom of Information Act. Congress is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in 2016 that the report was a congressional record. Musgrave’s legal argument was made in an attempt to get around that limitation. Common law right of access is decided in the District of Columbia Circuit based on a two-part test that requires a determination that the document is a public record and then balancing the government’s interest in keeping the document secret against the public’s interest in disclosure. District of Columbia District Judge Beryl Howell ruled that the report “does not qualify as a public record subject to the common law right of public access” because although it was part of the committee’s investigation, it was aimed at gathering information and did not make recommendations or propose legislation. Therefore, she said, it falls under the protections of the 1st Amendment‘s speech and debate clause protecting legislators’ speech while crafting legislation.
Los Angeles Times