Transparency News, 9/24/20


 September 24, 2020
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state & local news stories
Albemarle County says it still is not legally obligated to respond to all public records requests within Virginia’s statutory deadline. An updated version of the county’s ordinance that defines how it will function during the COVID-19 pandemic extends a waiver of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act’s response deadlines another six months. The new “continuity of government during the COVID-19 disaster” ordinance, which includes the FOIA deadline waiver, will take effect Oct. 1. The rule remains troubling to advocates for open government. “I continue to disagree with the codification of a right to delay responding to FOIA requests,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit that advocates for expanded access to government records, meetings and other proceedings. 
Charlottesville Tomorrow

With 150-acres of land and several historic buildings to renovate on his property, King William resident Bob Hubbard knew he was in for a challenge. But when he realized his property assessment did not reflect its actual categorization, he didn’t expect he’d have to wait six years to fix it. When he took the problem to the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office, he said he was told he missed an opportunity to appeal and as a result, would pay more in taxes on land that was estimated higher than its worth. Hubbard said he accepted the decision but it left him thinking: how many other people have experienced the same thing? “I just accepted it and went on,” Hubbard said. “But then I began to hear from other people, situations where their property was not correctly categorized. Of course, all this information is online, so I went online and looked.” After speaking with more people and looking at county records, Hubbard said he realized several residents were affected by incorrect assessments, and his own neighbors weren’t paying their property taxes on time.
Tidewater Review

A grand jury has indicted a former Virginia Beach School Board candidate on charges of alleged election fraud and filing a forged document. Justin Burns, a college student who in late August ended his candidacy in the at-large School Board race, is accused of making a false statement or entry in a report under a section of election law and representing a forged document as true, according to a copy of the Tuesday, Sept. 8, indictment filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court. The charges are felonies.
The Princess Anne Independent News
stories of national interest
The Navy began releasing documents from the investigation into the deadliest submarine disaster in U.S. history on Wednesday, but the Navy said the documents released under a court order don’t shed any new light on the cause of the sinking. The first of the documents released were 300 pages from the official inquiry into the sinking of the USS Thresher on April 10, 1963. The loss of the nuclear-powered submarine and all 129 men aboard during a test dive in the Atlantic Ocean delivered a blow to national pride during the Cold War and became the impetus for safety improvements. The documents released Wednesday included the timeline of the sinking, evidence lists, reports, testimony and correspondence. But there were some redactions. Even more than 50 years later, technical details including the test depth were redacted. Retired Capt. James Bryant, commander of a Thresher-class submarine, requested the documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act and ultimately went to court to demand the documents' release. He thinks there’s more to be learned from the documents, most of them classified.
The Virginian-Pilot