Transparency News 9/6/19



September 6, 2019


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state & local news stories


A conservative group that advocates for government transparency has filed a lawsuit against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax over a denied public records request. Judicial Watch and Virginia resident William Marshall are asking for a year’s worth of instant chats, emails and text messages between Fairfax and his staffers about sexual assault allegations that were brought against the Lt. Governor in February. Marshall submitted an open records request in June, seeking messages specifically discussing rape, sexual assault, Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. The petitioner also sought any communications regarding the possibility of Fairfax resigning. Fairfax’ office denied the records request in July citing exemptions in Virginia public records law that apply to correspondence to and from the Lt. Governor, the Governor and members of the General Assembly.

Bids to install safety vestibules and modify restrooms to meet standards for the federal Americans with Disabilities Act at three city elementary schools are more than twice the amount of funds designated for the projects. School officials opened the bids for the three schools from a single bidder last Thursday afternoon, and the $466,000 total far exceeded the $200,000 the City Council set aside for the work. The Herald Courier obtained that information through a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request.
Bristol Herald Courier

Roanoke’s municipal auditor questioned actions and practices by leaders of the city’s general services and parks departments in investigative reports presented to the city’s audit committee Wednesday. One report said a $700 lunch for 100 city employees, paid for by a vendor who supplied new garbage trucks to the city, violated both state procurement law and city policy, something the official who requested the lunch had been advised of ahead of time. The city manager’s office did not dispute the report’s findings but criticized it for unnecessarily impugning the director of general service’s character. Another report found lax handling of employee overtime and leave time by the parks and recreation department that may violate federal labor law, as well as loose controls on cash and outdoors equipment provided to the parks and recreation department by event sponsors. A third report also released Wednesday outlined improper expenditures allowed by a former adult services program supervisors who is now deceased.
The Roanoke Times

Chaz Haywood, clerk of the circuit court for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, announced Thursday that the Library of Virginia had awarded the circuit court preservation grants to restore and preserve historical records. Six deed books ranging from the 1770s-1880s will be preserved under the grant funding. In total, the Library of Virginia awarded more than $24,000 in grants to the circuit court. “As the keeper of the records, it is my intention to preserve and make accessible all records in my care for the citizens to whom they belong,” Haywood said.
Daily News Record

Former Augusta County supervisor Terry Kelley Jr. pleaded guilty to five counts of credit card theft, fraud and forgery on Thursday. He will serve a total of three months and it could be served as house arrest. Kelley, 55, faced 22 counts related to credit card theft, fraud and forgery following an Augusta County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the misuse of a county fire department fleet fuel credit card.
The News Virginian


stories of national interest

For several years, the city has published annual reports on the Spokane Police Department’s use of force. Now, a new tool will make that information easier to study. An interactive dashboard was launched Tuesday on the Office of Police Ombudsman’s website. The dashboard allows users to sort and track data on the police department’s use of force between 2013 and 2018. It compiles 616 incidents in which police used physical force to bring a subject into compliance during that time, allowing users to analyze information such as the neighborhoods in which such incidents most frequently occur; race and other characteristics of the person police used force on; and what type of force officers used.

A conservative watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Lawsuit against the FBI seeking information about two bureau officials it accuses of being "spies" for former FBI Director James Comey in the White House. eaded by Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, announced on its website Wednesday that the FBI missed a deadline to respond to its July FOIA request and filed its lawsuit in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit seeks a wide array of records, including “all" of Comey’s emails from April 1, 2016, to May 31, 2017. "If these Deep State agencies will not comply with the law until a federal court forces them to, then we’ll keep filing federal lawsuits and taking them to court," the group said in a statement.
Washington Examiner




editorials & columns


The FOIA yield was revealing. It turned out that in the Rao case, the story idea was hatched by a public relations official in the employ of Navy Hill. He contacted a top public relations official at VCU who eagerly cooperated. After some email back-and-forth, the opinion piece titled “Navy Hill Would be Transformative for All” was published in the newspaper under Rao’s byline. The other op-ed came out in similar fashion. When asked about the oddity, RTD Executive Editor Paige Mudd said that the newspaper would not have published Rao’s column if the paper had known that he didn’t write it. The RTD apparently had requested emails regarding the formation of the op-ed under the Freedom of Information Act, but did not pursue the matter. It’s not the first time in the state when a public relations unit of a major real estate developer vetted a supposedly independent op-ed written by a prominent academic. Professor Steve Fuller, a prominent regional economist at George Mason University, recently wrote a laudatory op-ed about Amazon’s huge new headquarters project in Northern Virginia. The piece was reviewed by Amazon and then was published in a regional business newspaper, according to The Washington Post.
Bacons Rebellion

SHOULD an elected member of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors be allowed to take a job as a county employee? Or vice versa, should a county employee be allowed to run for a seat on the county board? That’s the question recently raised when first-term Berkeley Supervisor Kevin Marshall left his previous job as a county firefighter to take a high-ranking position in the county’s Department of Economic Development where, as an elected supervisor, he will technically be his new boss’ boss. And Livingston Supervisor Greg Benton, who is not running for reelection, was also a county employee when he was elected to the board four years ago. Neither Marshall nor Benton violated any rules. Voters in their districts knew they were electing supervisors who were already on the county payroll. But with Spotsylvania expanding beyond its rural roots, the board is now tentatively considering outlawing such dual roles in the future. And it should. Keeping a professional distance between county supervisors and county employees will help ensure that taxpayers are adequately represented.
Free Lance-Star