Transparency News 9/4/18



September 4, 2018


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state & local news stories


"The Postal Service declined to provide any identifying information about the other three individuals whose information was mistakenly released."

Virginia Beach Vice Mayor Jim Wood was criticized this month for voting to reappoint his mother to the Development Authority. Some council members and candidates say it’s inappropriate for someone in his position to be involved in appointing his mother to such a powerful board.
The Virginian-Pilot

Following the chaotic end of a gathering outside of the Albemarle County School Board’s meeting Thursday to discuss adding a proposed ban of Confederate images to the division’s dress code, other free-speech issues have emerged: the rights of residents to protest and assemble outside of public meetings, and where those rights potentially end.  About 50 people assembled outside the public meeting; after a few minutes, their chants and speeches could be heard inside the meeting chambers. A few minutes later, a deputy chief of police began asking protesters to quiet down. When they did not, he then asked them to disperse. When they refused, he began arresting people. After six arrests were made inside and outside Lane Auditorium and police cleared the anteroom, several members of the public and media were initially refused re-entry to the meeting.
The Daily Progress

The U.S. Postal Service's extraordinary release of sensitive personal information about an ex-CIA officer running for Congress in Virginia's 7th District resulted from an employee mishandling a public information request, according to two congressional aides briefed on the matter. A total of four public information requests were mishandled, the Postal Service said in a briefing of staff for Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia's 11th District, the top Democrat on the committee's government operations subcommittee; and the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The Postal Service declined to provide any identifying information about the other three individuals whose information was mistakenly released, or say if they are candidates for public office, according to two aides who were on the call. The aides spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

One of the challengers in the upcoming Hopewell City Council elections said Friday it was she, not anyone in the General Registrar’s office, who tipped the state off about three of the candidates’ names appearing in all capital letters on a draft ballot. Deborah B. Randolph, who faces Ward 1 incumbent Christina J. Luman-Bailey in November, said in an interview that she felt bad over news reports that a longtime assistant in the registrar’s office was let go after the information became public. In an interview Friday, Randolph said she barely knows Betty Bogue, the former assistant, but she felt like Bogue had become the “scapegoat” over the issue.
The Progress-Index

Virginia Tech library archivists are studying the fabric of the former Southwest Virginia mill town called Fries — literally and figuratively. A large collection of ledger books, business documents and even samples of textile fabrics make up a special collection that a federal grant will help properly preserve and catalog. The special collection will bring the history of Fries out of the basement and into the public’s view, while shining a light on a unique American labor experience.
The Roanoke Times


national stories of interest

President Trump will not release more than 100,000 pages of records from Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh’s tenure in the George W. Bush White House, claiming they would be covered by executive privilege.  The White House’s decision was disclosed in a letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday ahead of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in the coming week. A Bush representative who has led a team of attorneys reviewing Kavanaugh’s papers confirmed that lawyers have finished going through the records and have turned over about 415,000 pages to the committee, although about 147,000 of those pages are being withheld from public view. The Presidential Records Act allows both the former administration and the current White House to claim privilege on presidential documents. A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, said Saturday that he will let the letter, first reported by the Associated Press, speak for itself. Trump has not officially invoked executive privilege over the documents.
The Washington Post

Investigations into livestock deaths in Idaho blamed on wolves don't have to be made public, the U.S. government says. The U.S. Department of Justice in documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court said the reports requested by an environmental group contain information that's exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. The Western Watersheds Project environmental group said it wants the reports because it suspects the U.S. Department of Agriculture and ranchers are inflating the number of wolf kills of livestock so more wolves are ordered killed in the state.
The Journal Times



"The Presidential Records Act allows both the former administration and the current White House to claim privilege on presidential documents."


editorials & columns


"For some reason, all parties involved seem to think hunkering down in a shroud of silence will make this magically ebb away."

Strange doings are afoot in Bristol. Citizens there, who own the right to elect and reject their council members at the ballot box, are being cut-out of an attempt to remove one of those members. According to an article in the Bristol Herald Courier, during a break in Tuesday’s city council meeting, council members had a document served on a fellow member, Doug Fleenor, that Fleenor later said seeks his removal from office. Neither Eads nor Fleenor is prohibited from disclosing the mystery document. The personnel exemption for records is discretionary, meaning they have a choice about whether to release it. Either or both of the sides in this internecine strife need to step up and let the public in. They are the ones who will be impacted by a reconfiguration of the current board. Some may rejoice, others may be distraught. All should be afforded the opportunity to know what’s going on.
Megan Rhyne, Bristol Herald Courier

The secrecy surrounding Bristol, Virginia, Councilmember Doug Fleenor’s ouster, a move instigated by other members of the council under a vague section of the city’s charter, is deeply troubling. For some reason, no one’s speaking. For some reason, all parties involved seem to think hunkering down in a shroud of silence will make this magically ebb away. It won’t. Instead of quelling suspicion, Bristol’s officials are only exacerbating it by leaving it to the court of rumor and innuendo and not making public the formal notice outlining the reasons behind Fleenor’s dismissal. That document was handed to him by a Bristol city police officer on his exit from the council’s Aug. 28 meeting. The Bristol Herald Courier’s interview with the soon-to-be-former councilmember contains this telling paragraph: “The document also outlines another accusation, which Fleenor wouldn’t disclose, that he said he’s consulting an attorney about.” The public has an absolute and indisputable right to know if their representatives stand accused of breaking the law, embarrassment be damned. What is it in that formal statement of charges that Fleenor needs legal counsel for?
Bristol Herald Courier

Watching some Charlottesville City Council and other city meetings collapse into chaos, Albemarle County officials surely have been taking notes. And just as surely, they have been asking themselves: How can we prevent this distortion of democracy from happening on our watch? The Board of Supervisors has subtly but firmly been re-emphasizing orderliness in its public meetings; now the county School Board has been hit with the same sort of unruly conduct that has marred city meetings. The dispute centers on protesters’ belief that the board isn’t (as yet) banning Confederate and similar symbols from a school dress code. Although we recognize the difficulty of that mission, we believe that understanding is a far better way to achieve social progress than are force, punishment and disruption. Meanwhile, although officials had the right to remove people who were being disruptive outside the boardroom, we join Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government in questioning their decision to temporarily block other members of the public from returning to the meeting. Police said they couldn’t differentiate the troublemakers from the law-abiding — and so they potentially turned away people who were not suspect.
The Daily Progress

Dorothy Wood, a member of the development authority since 2011, is the mother of Councilmember Jim Wood. He now serves as vice mayor, following the resignation earlier this year of Mayor Will Sessoms and the assent to the mayor’s seat on an interim basis by Councilman Louis Jones. The former president and CEO of J.D. & W Inc., a Virginia Beach contracting firm, Wood boasts involvement in a host of charitable and community endeavors. There is no question that she is a qualified and capable voice to have on the development board, where she serves as chair. However, there is also no question that having a mother and son on these boards is … well … not the best look for Virginia Beach. It’s potentially problematic given the multi-million dollar decisions routinely made first by the development authority and then by the council. One might forgive Wood for wanting to cast a vote in favor of his mother’s appointment to the authority, but Beach residents have a right to expect their elected officials to avoid the appearance of impropriety as well as impropriety itself.
The Virginian-Pilot

It became clear to many in 2015 that Abingdon had a culture of secrecy at Town Hall. Our town council was unresponsive to citizens who expressed legitimate and urgent concerns at meetings, and once in 2016 there was even an attempt to forbid public comment on some issues — fortunately, without success. Abingdon is fortunate that during this time, the Herald Courier provided news coverage and editorials that brought attention to a lack of openness. This certainly contributed to the fact that all those elected in May 2018 to the Town Council had already during their campaigns declared their commitment to governmental transparency.
Warren M. Harris, Bristol Herald Courier