Transparency News 9/20/19



September 20, 2019


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state & local news stories


"It is a central tenet of the U.S. legal system that adult defendants be prosecuted publicly in open courts."

Three Portsmouth men were arrested last week on federal drug charges, but because two co-defendants were not picked up at the same time their case proceeded the next seven days in relative secrecy. On Monday, they even pleaded not guilty and watched as a jury trial was scheduled for Nov. 5 in Norfolk while their case remained sealed. It was only after The Virginian-Pilot started asking questions about the case that federal prosecutors on Tuesday prepared and filed a redacted indictment that allowed for it to be partially unsealed on Wednesday. “That is really not how things are supposed to happen,” said Jennifer Nelson, a staff attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who instructs the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. It is a central tenet of the U.S. legal system that adult defendants be prosecuted publicly in open courts. And even if law enforcement was still trying to arrest the last two defendants, Nelson said less restrictive options were available to prosecutors — like the filing of a redacted indictment. “This goes hand-in-hand with the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” she said, explaining open access to legal filings “ensure the public can provide needed oversight of the courts.”
The Virginian-Pilot

High-ranking Richmond administrators linked to a City Hall nepotism scandal kept their jobs Thursday, a day after a scathing inspector general report prompted Mayor Levar Stoney to fire his chief administrative officer. The investigation revealed that five of top administrator Selena Cuffee-Glenn’s relatives got jobs at city departments she oversaw between January and March without competitive searches. Helping facilitate some of the hires were the heads of the departments of Public Works, Public Utilities and Human Resources, all of whom remained employed with the city as of Thursday afternoon, according to a Stoney spokesman.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Some Richmond public housing residents and community members were denied admission to the public housing authority’s board meeting on Wednesday.  Omar Al-Qadaffi is a housing organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center. He said Brian Swann, the agency’s new director of public safety and a police officer were guarding the doors. “It just seems like by any means necessary the housing authority wants to shut their own tenants out of any type of policy making or input,” Al-Qadaffi said.  Swann directed residents to find the meeting minutes online. However, the agency hasn’t updated meeting minutes since June

The [FOIA] case of Marian Bragg v The Board of Supervisors — Bragg 1 — could grow even more costly to taxpayers now that the county government’s insurance company, Virginia Risk Sharing Association (VRSA), won’t defend the board in an appeal by Supervisor Ron Frazier for reimbursement of $19,365 in legal fees. Bottom line: “VRSA, by the terms of the [county’s] Policy, would not have to contribute towards the cost of defending the appeal since ‘appeals’ are excluded from the ‘costs of defense.’” 
Rappahannock News




editorials & columns

quote_3.jpg"We hope the administration avoids the mistakes of the past and moves forward into openness and good government."

The specter of cronyism continues to haunt Richmond City Hall and raises serious concerns about its culture. Selena Cuffee-Glenn, Richmond’s top administrator, was fired Wednesday by Mayor Levar Stoney after the release of a disturbing report outlining how five of her relatives landed jobs during her tenure with city departments she oversaw. Richmond does deserve better. Among Cuffee-Glenn’s responsibilities, she oversaw the city’s negotiations of the proposed $1.5 billion plan to redevelop the area around the Richmond Coliseum with NH District Corp. For a citizenry already skeptical of the city’s ability to execute major projects, Cuffee-Glenn’s firing doesn’t instill confidence as City Council begins the arduous task of dissecting the massive economic development project she helped broker. We hope the administration avoids the mistakes of the past and moves forward into openness and good government.
Richmond Times-Dispatch