Transparency News, 9/7/21


September 7, 2021
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state & local news stories
Black drivers are disproportionately stopped and arrested, and they have their cars searched at higher rates than any other race statewide and in the Richmond region, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch analysis of a trove of recently released traffic stop data from 314 law enforcement agencies across the state. In Virginia, drivers who are Black are 1.6 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers based on their respective populations. And once stopped, Black drivers are 1.6 times more likely to have their car searched than white drivers, and 1.3 times as likely to be arrested. The data is collected as part of the new Virginia Community Policing Act passed by the General Assembly last year. It requires every law enforcement officer in the state to document the details of the stop, including who they stopped, where, why and what happened. The first year of data was recently made available and covers 878,190 stops from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Very little is publicly known about a very public critic of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Appalachians Against Pipelines established a Facebook page in February 2018, about the time that tree-sitters began their efforts to block construction of the massive natural gas pipeline. Since then, the group has used social media as a megaphone to promote its agenda, while otherwise remaining largely invisible. Mountain Valley is trying to find out who they are. In a subpoena recently filed in Roanoke’s federal court, the company asks Facebook to reveal the names and telephone numbers of those who established and maintain a page that has more than 21,000 followers. Appalachians Against Pipelines says the subpoena is nothing more than an effort to intimidate and silence them — a position shared by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for privacy and free speech on the internet.
The Roanoke Times

A five and a half hour Charlottesville Planning Commission work session last week proved that the Future Land Use Map remains the most contentious part of the City of Charlottesville’s comprehensive plan update. The meeting began 30 minutes late due to technical difficulties with Zoom and ended shortly after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the Charlottesville area — just as a citizen commented on how increasing density and walkability could be a good way to reduce carbon emissions and thus curb further contributions to climate change. According to Planning Commissioner Rory Stoltzenberg, who referenced public records for this information, the two public comment periods totaled 180 minutes, more than half of the 330-minute meeting. Koch’s presentation accounted for 58 minutes, Planning Commissioner feedback for 50 minutes, and city councilor feedback 25 minutes (the rest is pleasantries, procedure, and recesses). 
Charlottesville Tomorrow

editorials & opinion

Last week, I wrote to you, our readers, about the writ of mandamus petition I filed against JMU on behalf of The Breeze. The drive behind the filing was simple: As journalists, our job is to pursue truth, hold officials accountable and serve the public interest. At 9 a.m., Aug. 26, I stood up in front of Judge Bruce D. Albertson in Courtroom C of the Rockingham Circuit Court and, serving as my own attorney, presented our case against the university. Case data by location is public data and is critical to allowing the public to make informed decisions about their health.  After a year of run-arounds and circled questions, the truth finally came out plainly. Jack Knight, JMU’s lead university counsel, said in court that the reason the university couldn’t comply with The Breeze’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was because — quite simply — JMU wasn’t tracking COVID-19 case data by location in a centralized location or manner during the period we were asking for. That period, Aug. 17, 2020, through Sept. 16, 2020, is the window in which JMU saw its largest case spike — 1,375 cases, concurrent with a 60% positivity rate within the university’s testing regime.
Jake Conley, The Breeze

Neither Jim Justice nor any of the governor’s men want you to know the costs of the West Virginia Executive Mansion, the taxpayer-funded building designated as the living and working quarters for this state’s chief executive. Governors before him have shared this information when asked. But not Justice. His lawyer says you do not have the right to know this. Because the mansion is his residence, the governor’s legal man speciously contends, records for utility, food, payroll and other expenses incurred there are not subject to the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Even though the Executive Mansion belongs not to the governor nor to any of his men but to the people of West Virginia, whose tax money a century ago paid for the land upon which the structure was built, the design of the building and the construction of it and whose tax money pays for its continued upkeep.
Lee Wolverton, The Herald-Dispatch