September 12, 2020 · OPINION
Stop treating Va. citizens like bad stepchildren
By Roger Chesley
If open-government advocates have their way in Richmond, relatives of crime victims and the news media may finally learn more details about a host of violent incidents — many that are several years old and votes of the State Parole Board will be pulled into the light of day.
It’s way overdue. When it comes to the public’s right to know, the commonwealth ranks citizens below government and businesses.
This dismissive practice has been a pet peeve of mine since I landed in Virginia 23 years ago. Other states don’t treat their residents with such scorn.
Too often, government officials default to a stance where they’ll only release information that they’re forced to by law. Whenever discretion is an option, they’ll almost always use protections in the state’s loophole-ridden Freedom of Information Act to keep details secret.
“This is our policy” to omit info is a typical response I’ve gotten from agencies when I’ve sought more facts, usually following a sparse police news release.
For example, even when a suspect has been arrested, police departments typically won’t identify injured victims. Want to know the possible motive — including whether the victim and suspect knew each other, possibly reducing the fear of people who live near the crime scene?
This is maddening. Some crimes can be decades in the past, yet departments deny requests to open up files — simply because they can.
The (Newport News) Daily Press reported HB5090, sponsored by Del. Christ Hurst, would mandate that criminal investigative files be made public when a court case is over, or at least three have years passed since police and prosecutors declined to pursue charges. The Montgomery County Democrat’s legislation has passed two House committees during the General Assembly’s special session.
The newspaper article included a horrific case I wrote many columns about: the accidental crushing death of a homeless man, Michael Knockett, by a city garbage truck at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront in 2010. Investigators ruled the death accidental, but it still cited an exemption to deny access to the 911 calls and other details.
(Not surprisingly, Mr. Knockett’s family members eventually sued the workers involved in the death. I interviewed his relatives and city officials over the course of the lawsuit, and spent time in the courtroom.)
I apologize to longtime readers of my columns if they’ve heard my rant before. It’s just that state statutes always force residents — and journalists — to jump over hurdles to find out what’s really happening in Virginia. The attitude reveals contempt toward taxpayers and others.
Citizens are treated like stepchildren, not good enough to know what public officials, businesspeople and the “good old boys” are hashing out.
Fighting such practices is one reason groups like the Virginia Coalition for Open Government support the legislation. “We think it’s part of an overall need for government accountability,” Megan Rhyne, the coalition’s executive director, told me this week.
When investigative records are closed forever, she added, citizens lose an important part of that oversight.
Part of the problem is the state’s FOIA is chock full of exemptions and designed to keep interested citizens — and journalists working on their behalf — from getting to the bottom of things. More than 175 records and meeting exemptions are part of the law.
Personnel exemptions, for example, make it difficult to know the backgrounds and work records of government employees.
Things have gotten so ridiculous that legislation enacted a few years ago prevents law enforcement officials from naming juveniles who die from any crime without the family’s consent.
I understand family members might be upset and decline to speak with reporters. But this law hinders police agencies from being the go-to source on issues of obvious public concern. Reporters can learn the names from social media and smartphones, but it’s a risk to rely on that information.
State regulations might be swinging back, slightly, to the side of openness. Even though police organizations are fighting Mr. Hurst’s bill, it has a shot at becoming law.
Meanwhile, a Senate-passed bill by Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Salem) makes individual votes of the state Parole Board public. The move followed a recent report by the state’s Inspector General that the board violated state law and its own procedures in the parole process of a man convicted of killing a police officer.
“Virginians should know who is making these critical public safety and individual liberty decisions,” Mr. Suetterlein said.
Both bills would go a long way, if approved, to recalibrating the rights of Virginians in getting information. They’re a major improvement over current practices.
Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018.
Jeffersonian American · September 20, 2020 at 6:48 am
Saving Fauquier, the most effective and immediate remedy for County parents who despise their local Marxist-Communist School Board Members and County Education leaders is to continue withdrawing their children from our local public schools and their disastrous AGENDA 21, "GOALS 2015" and other Cultural Marxism curriculums being taught there- and place them in Private Schools, Community Hedge Schools or better yet, if at all possible, a superior Home School curriculum.
As encountered in recent decades, the latter students are the most polite, well-adjusted, mature and educated children- and the ones who always win scholarship funds for college at the local and State levels through their taking a few extra minutes to compose and enter serious American History essays and orations contests. For some reason (I can think of many reasons but won't go in to them here) public school students almost never enter these competitions and almost never are represented- much less author serious essays or give thoughtful orations reflecting quality scholarship, public speaking and appearance virtues. Even at Virginia "History Day" competitions conducted regionally at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria (another high school with an "evil, racist name" that no doubt will be changed soon by these same School Board Mentality Officials to our North), it is clear to all the History Day Judges that most of the public school children are not performing at the level of the private and home schooled students- it is strikingly evident in their selection of topics and oral and written presentations. Even with such seemingly simple theme topics as "Americans who made positive contributions to our world," would see public school students presenting such primitive depictions of pop culture Americans as "Neil Young" and "Marilyn Monroe" and "Michael Jordan" while the private and home school children next to them presented neat, beautiful and thoughtful presentations of landmark American figures such as "General George C. Marshall" or "Henry J. Kaiser," or "George Washington Carver," etc.
Savefauquiercounty2019 · September 18, 2020 at 1:53 pm
Have you gone to a school board meeting? Parents are treated like second class citizens. They ask a question and receive NO response. If a comment is made by a parent, they could possibly be removed by a deputy. Our children witness how their parents are sorely treated. Silenced. The mechanism for communication of the school board is very unprofessional and unethical. It is time citizens start taking notes.
Jeffersonian American · September 18, 2020 at 8:34 am
Oscar Torres, writing at AMERICAN THINKER summarizes it best:
SIT, STAY, AND ROLL OVER, AMERICA
So much controversy has surrounded the disastrous COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. Masks are bad, then good; protesting en masse is a constitutional right; worshiping in church is forbidden; and now we also have to question the death count related to the virus. Americans are angry, worried, and confused with the misinformation from our media and our governments. But one thing has been clear: Local government officials have grown ever more addicted to and drunk on power. They are flexing their might like never before and are training Americans like dogs to Sit, Stay, and Roll Over.
Sit! Yes, sit still and await your next command. Sit in front of your cell phone, tablet, or television and watch as we tell you one thing and then reverse it later. Sit at your window and look out longingly at a world that is rightfully yours, America. You may look, but you cannot go out and enjoy it.
Stay! Stay in your homes till we tell you it’s safe to go outside. Stay away from your Church. Stay away from your fitness centers, restaurants, bars, parks, and other places of enjoyment. Stay away from your jobs that we, the all-powerful politicians, have deemed unessential, even if you go broke and cannot pay your bills. Force your puppies to stay at home away from the schools that your taxes have paid for as we continue to pay the teachers who do not want to go near your children.
And most importantly, Roll Over, America, and surrender your Constitutional Rights! Listen to us, your elected officials, whom you hired to manage the taxes we take from your pay to provide safety, roads, utilities, and schools. We are not your employees; we are your Ruling Class.
Roll over and surrender your 1st Amendment rights. We, the Ruling Class, will tell you what to say and punish you when you say anything we disagree with.
Surrender your safety and 2nd Amendment rights, while we, the Ruling Class, release violent criminals into your neighborhoods and take away your guns, leaving you at their mercy. Or better, we’ll arrest and persecute you for using a gun to protect your family.
Surrender your freedom of choice, as we will tell you when you can work, what schools your children can attend, and how we will use your hard-earned dollars for illegal immigrants and those we deem “entitled.”
As a soldier of 34 years, I was trained to march in formations, dress-right-dress, right face, left face, forward march, and halt. This was to build a unified group to work and walk as one for a specific purpose: warfare.
What’s happening now, though, is not training for warfare. Our power-drunk politicians are conditioning us to accept their takeover of our freedoms, our Liberty, and our way of life. If we do not take a stand now, America, all that’s left for us is to be happy with our new leash, and joyfully Sit, Stay, and Roll Over on command. “Be a good dog and go into this room. And you can just ignore the gas.”
farmbum · September 17, 2020 at 11:27 am
"Well, we don't rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia"
Jeffersonian American · September 16, 2020 at 7:52 am
Truepat · September 14, 2020 at 10:46 am
Remember to vote 😊
Jerome Fields · September 14, 2020 at 9:27 am
Jeffersonian Anti-american - Our failing governments response to cyber-security isn't coming from any Democrat controlled anything. There are bills voted on by the House that have been waiting on Mitch McConnell's desk for years on addressing hacker attacks from generally overseas entities, namely the Russian and Chinese. To address who EXACTLY is FAILING to protect the USA look to the US Senate, controlled by the Republicans.
Heather Johnson - New name same old crap.
Heather Johnson · September 14, 2020 at 5:53 am
BalancedFart: take a pill, change your diaper and back to bed. This is a world you don't understand.
Jeffersonian American · September 14, 2020 at 5:13 am
UnstableandUnbalanced, while I was adding to Ms. Ward's observation of our failing Government-run, Democrat-controlled Virginia Public Schools, I do understand how in your world, Madam may actually confuse you into possibly thinking I was addressing one of your LGBTQXYZ Friends or some other warped depravity.
Your prescriptions for America is not going to reverse our societal or socio-economic Stage IV Cancer.
FairandBalanced · September 13, 2020 at 8:26 pm
There goes Jefferson A's credibility! No idea where this opinion stems from. JA is just not aware. Wait for it. Wait for it....JA will now introduce 'ridicule'. Them fellas got nothing else. Thank you, MR.! Chesley. I totally agree. Investigative records should not be closed forever. In Putin's vision of America? Maybe. Not in ours. BTW, JA's cites are ridiculous!
FairandBalanced · September 13, 2020 at 8:15 pm
Jeffersonian American · September 13, 2020 at 8:53 am
Linda Ward · September 12, 2020 at 5:08 pm
Someone is getting information on government employees, and not in a good way.
"Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia have confirmed the hack, but an association that represents FCPS teachers and staff says employees haven’t been informed that their personal information could have been stolen.o
Hackers have broken into Fairfax County Public Schools' computer network and say they're holding personal information for ransom.
There's no telling how much was stolen.
Fairfax County Public Schools have confirmed the hack, but an association that represents FCPS teachers and staff says employees haven't been informed that their personal information could have been stolen."
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