Transparency News, 9/2/21


September 2, 2021
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state & local news stories
The Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot are challenging a motion to block the media from a court hearing this week in the case of a man accused of killing a Newport News police officer early last year. The Newport News Public Defender’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office want the media barred from an evidence suppression hearing Friday for Vernon E. Green III, charged in the slaying of Officer Katherine M. “Katie” Thyne in January 2020. The newspapers contend that closing the hearing would violate the First Amendment, the Virginia Constitution and the common law of Virginia. “Courts at all levels have addressed this issue and have affirmed the presumption of openness,” attorneys for the newspapers, Brett Spain and Bethany Fogerty, wrote in a motion for access to the hearing.
The Virginian-Pilot

After months of internal strife, Charlottesville has fired RaShall Brackney, chief of the Charlottesville Police Department. According to a Wednesday news release, City Manager Chip Boyles exercised his right to terminate Brackney’s employment contract upon 90 days’ notice. Brackney, who was hired by the city in June 2018, will be on paid administrative release until Nov. 30. The announcement did little to clarify the reasons for either employment decision, but followed months of behind the scenes struggles that were brought to public attention when the Central Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association released survey data that indicated dissatisfaction among its members with the leadership of the city police department. “Before command staff could sort through and analyze all the [survey responses], the city began receiving [Freedom of Information Act] requests for the forms,” the city's statement said. “A decision was made to maintain the confidentiality of the information provided regarding identifiable individuals, in order that the results could be considered and utilized in a productive manner.”
The Daily Progress

A city resident has filed a lawsuit alleging the Suffolk School Board, chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck and Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III violated the Freedom of Information Act by denying her access to an open meeting. Deborah Wahlstrom alleges she was denied access to the July 22 School Board retreat that was held at the College and Career Academy at Pruden in violation of the act’s provisions regarding open meeting access. The public notice of the School Board retreat on the school division’s website states that it would meet at 8 a.m. July 22 at CCAP, and that the notice was provided as required by the Virginia Code section governing public meetings and notices of them. There was nothing stated that access to the meeting room would be restricted. A Suffolk News-Herald reporter who also attempted to access the meeting room that day was also asked to view the meeting on a screen from the area set up near the school’s entrance, and was told that Brooks-Buck did not want anyone else in the room other than board and division staff due to COVID-19. No other members of the public attempted to access the meeting room after 11 a.m.
Suffolk News-Herald

Plans to widen Interstate 64 to make way for express toll lanes places Hampton at ground zero for the construction. With that in mind, representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation will host two public meetings, one virtual and one in-person, in late September, officials said in a release Monday.
Daily Press

A Leesburg attorney is challenging a petition brought forth by a group of Loudoun County residents seeking the removal of School Board member Beth Barts (Leesburg District). Charlie King, a Leesburg attorney representing Barts, filed a motion on Tuesday urging the court to rule that the pleading signed by Michael D. Biron is void on the claim he is not attorney and asked the court to award attorney’s fees to his client for having to file and argue the motion. Ian Prior, executive director of Fight for Schools, told the Times-Mirror that Fight For Schools is continuing to collect signatures for the remaining school board members, but for the immediate future the focus will be on monitoring and ensuring a fair process in the removal case against Barts. “Because the substantive evidence is so overwhelming against Beth Barts, it was expected that she would try and bog down the removal effort by fights on process,” Prior said.
Loudoun Times-Mirror
stories from around the country
"They studied dozens of meetings in the Boston metropolitan area and found that attendees were not remotely representative of their communities."
Academics say that the long lag time is a common feature of local housing and transportation policymaking in already populated areas. Critics say that America’s insistence on intensive public engagement usually only empowers a specific and privileged slice of the population. Policymakers have gone from being overly solicitous to big developers and master builders to being overly deferential to upper middle-class homeowners and drivers.  “These processes are very much biased in favor of making it take a really long time to get anything done,” says Katherine Levine Einstein, professor of political science at Boston University. With her colleagues at Boston University, Einstein conducted research around participation in community meetings about housing and zoning. They studied dozens of meetings in the Boston metropolitan area and found that attendees were not remotely representative of their communities. They were more likely to be white, even in areas with small white populations, and they were even more likely to be older than the average resident and far more likely to be homeowners.

An Illinois House Republican who sought “data, studies, scientific or medical articles, and correspondence” from people advocating in support of school mask mandates got her answer in dramatic fashion on Tuesday. Gov. JB Pritzker’s office responded to an Aug. 10 Freedom of Information Act Request filed by Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) by sending a staffer to her legislative office in Springfield to hand-deliver 870 pages of studies and letters from parents that supported the mask mandate. Government agencies typically respond to FOIA requests in emails and attachments, but in delivering the papers in such a public manner, the Pritzker administration sought to draw attention to the number of parents who have thanked him for enacting and enforcing mask mandates at the start of the new school year.

Georgia has filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking communications records between the Justice Department and left-leaning activist groups and lawmakers as part of the DOJ's lawsuit against the state’s election law, Fox News has learned.  Fox News obtained the FOIA request on behalf of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, which requests access to DOJ communications with various non-governmental entities that are involved in legal challenges to the state’s law; DOJ communications with members of Congress or staff regarding the law; and internal guidance documents that the Justice Department uses to determine when a state election law violates the Voting Rights Act. The FOIA seeks DOJ communications with nearly 5 dozen entities and individuals, including Stacey Abrams, her organization Fair Fight, Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, and more. 
Fox News


editorials & opinion
"All you got was a barred room, with the majority party legislators closeted inside doing their best (or worse, as the case may be) to save themselves."
The strained labors of the new Virginia Redistricting Commission were predictable. The trouble with redistricting — the reapportionment of the state’s congressional and legislative districts — is that it is difficult. Not difficult in a run-of-the-mill legislative sense, where sides square off to determine which position prevails. Those can be hard enough, depending on the issue involved. Rather, redistricting gets hard because it centers on lawmakers themselves. It can sometimes determine their political fate and, truth is, politicians would rather determine that themselves. That commission is spitting and sputtering, to put it kindly. Again, none of this is easy. But are we making progress? Yes, there’s an argument for optimism. You can take measure of the proceedings, for starters. That was not the case previously. All you got was a barred room, with the majority party legislators closeted inside doing their best (or worse, as the case may be) to save themselves. Granted, seeing what’s happening may not be gladdening or inspiring, but there is much to be said for transparency in a functioning democracy. It lays a more legitimate basis for settling these matters. It is a step in the right direction.
The Virginian-Pilot