Transparency News 9/21/18



September 21, 2018


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state & local news stories


Virginia's State Board of Elections voted unanimously Thursday to seek the removal of two court-appointed Hopewell elections officials, a rare disciplinary step that follows several scandals in the city registrar's office. The state board voted 3-0 to ask a judge to remove Hopewell Electoral Board members David Silvestro and Herbert Townes, who recently supported the creation of a ballot that presented some candidates' names entirely in capital letters.At times, the testimony seemed to contradict basic facts. For example, Silvestro and Townes said they hadn't seen the flawed ballot before they voted in favor of it. "I never saw the ballot," Townes said. State board member Clara Belle Wheeler then got up from her chair, walked over to Townes and showed him an Aug. 21 photo of Washington holding up the ballot for his colleagues to see during the meeting in Hopewell. The state board then played a video of the Aug. 21 meeting shot by a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter that showed the Hopewell board discussing the ballot and dismissing the state's guidance saying it should be changed.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Freedom of Information Act — FOIA — is a Virginia law designed to provide the public access to government documents with the intention of creating an open, transparent democracy. Though the news media is the often depicted as the face of FOIA requests, the law is in place to be used by anyone — from the average citizen to advocacy groups. At times, it’s also used by one government body to gather information from another. Asked if explicit mention of FOIA in a request changes its tone or perception, VCOG's Megan Rhyne and Virginia Municipal League's Michelle Gowdy said although it shouldn’t have that connotation, it often can.
Register & Bee

The Intercept wanted to learn more about how Mercatus sought to massage public opinion and contain the fallout from the unintended implications of their paper. George Mason University is a public university in Virginia that is subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which The Intercept used to request communications between Mercatus and members of the media. That’s when The Intercept learned that the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is not, apparently, part of George Mason University. That, at least, was the contention of Elizabeth Woodley, compliance officer at George Mason University, when asked for communications between Blahous, Mercatus senior outreach associate Jessica Paska, and members of the media. “Neither Charles Blahous nor Jessica Paska are employees of George Mason University,” Woodley wrote in her response. “They appear to be employees of the Mercatus Center Inc., an independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.”
The Intercept

A former Virginia Tech researcher who left for the University of Virginia will get a pay raise and avenues to pursue other researchers to work with him, according to a copy of his job offer letter. He’s already been successful in coaxing at least seven of his former faculty colleagues to join him, according to a Tech spokesman. More could follow. The offer letter, obtained from UVa after a Freedom of Information Act request, includes that Chris Barrett will make $450,000 — a 15 percent raise from his $391,470 annual salary at Tech. Barrett was the executive director of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and is now the executive director of the Biocomplexity Institute and Initiative at UVa.
The Roanoke Times

After a week’s delay because of Hurricane Florence, the Henrico County School Board held a public hearing Thursday to gather input on who should be the next Tuckahoe District representative on the board. Following the resignation of Lisa Marshall from the Tuckahoe seat last month because of health issues, the School Board decided that it will appoint someone to serve out the remaining year of her term. After accepting 11 applications for the seat, the board narrowed the field to three candidates. The board is to announce the appointment after a closed session on Oct. 4.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Virginia State Police spent $3.1 million to provide security related to the anniversary of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. According to information provided by spokeswoman Corinne Geller on Thursday, those costs include police operations on Aug. 11 and 12, 2018, and the preparations leading up to that weekend. A spokesman for the city of Charlottesville said Thursday that records of city costs are not yet available.
The Daily Progress


national stories of interest

The US State Department suffered a data breach that exposed some employee data. The email system breach impacted "less than 1 percent of employee inboxes," according to a Sept. 7 department alert obtained by Politico. The department's classified email system was not affected, according to the alert, which was marked "Sensitive But Unclassified."





editorials & columns


Danville Police Chief Scott Booth is a cop who gets it. He understands the foundation of the relationship between the public a police department is sworn to protect and serve is one simple thing: trust. And we hope Danville residents and its civic and business leaders realize how fortunate we are to have such a person leading the law enforcement efforts in our city. During the 14-year tenure of Phillip Broadfoot as Danville police chief, the department epitomized transparency with both the public and the news media. As we have noted many times in the past, the Danville Police Department was much more transparent and open than many of its sister departments across the state. That attitude came straight from the top.
Register & Bee