Judge refuses civil penalty for violating VFOIA

During the trial phase of an action brought by citizens in Westmoreland County, a judge refused civil penalties for the Board of Supervisors, the Administrator of the IDA (Industrial Development Authority and the Zoning Administrator because (it was said) the officials didn’t know the requirements of the law for exemptions meant to satisfy the need for a closed meeting.

Frank Delano of the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star and Pamela D’Angelo of the Richmond Times Dispatch covered the decision handed down by retired Charlottesville Judge Jay T. Swett earlier this week.

Mr. Delano:

Swett said the officials failed to cite a sufficiently specific reason for closing the meeting to the public, and that County Zoning Administrator Robert Fink erred in not providing in a timely fashion a document requested by the plaintiffs.

Swett said that county owed legal fees to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the FOIA suit, but fines against county officials were unjustified because they acted without knowledge of the law’s details.

Ms. D’Angelo:

In a written ruling, Swett found the county’s action was willfully done, though he found no evidence that members of the Westmoreland Board of Supervisors or the Industrial Development Authority knew the legal consequences of going into a closed meeting without providing information in the minutes.

Court ruling

Of course, what the judge says carries a lot of weight. However, he is wrong, and his decision circumvents the law. Virginia Code (1950) 2.2-3700 is the applicable section of law here. It states (in part):

The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government. Any exemption from public access to records or meetings shall be narrowly construed and no record shall be withheld or meeting closed to the public unless specifically made exempt pursuant to this chapter or other specific provision of law.

2.2-3702 states (in part):

Any person elected, reelected, appointed or reappointed to any body not excepted from this chapter shall (i) be furnished by the public body’s administrator or legal counsel with a copy of this chapter within two weeks following election, reelection, appointment or reappointment and (ii) read and become familiar with the provisions of this chapter.

Is the judge contradicting the established law in this area? It clearly states that officials will become familiar with the provisions of the law, and will be furnished a copy of the law. Is the judge intimating that the officials in Westmoreland County have not performed their duties according to the law?

This is pretty straightforward stuff really. I would think a judge of the stature of Judge Swett would realize that the civil penalty portion of the law is meant to be punitive in nature. Yet, in black and white in the decision, there it is.

The officials didn’t know the legal requirements of the law concerning closed meetings.

I hope the plaintiffs appeal this decision.

Brian Moran for DPVA Chair

I heartily endorse Brian Moran for the position of Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Others have different views, different perspectives, but from my perspective – Brian is the most qualified and has the skills to bring the party back from some very difficult times. I don’t have to go into them here, but the party has had some questionable practices. There is a tendency to favor metropolitan areas. The problem with that last one is that the party needs to grow much more, by bringing along more of the rural Democrats. I think Brian Moran understands this, and has the talent to start fixing it.

I am not going to discuss accusations made by others about the character of Brian Moran.

Brian Moran is a talent waiting to be used in Democratic politics in this Commonwealth. He should be at the head of these efforts to reinvigorate and further modernize the party. We can’t afford to allow him to work for anyone else. We need him now.

I hear people talking, playing the politics of destruction. Is that is what we are all reduced to, spreading damning accusations? It needs to stop. We need to be united in order to win.

Brian Moran for Chair, Democratic Party of Virginia.

Countdown: Perriello on the state of the race

Robert Hurt Runs and Hides From Voters

“NRCC tactic not even politics” – VA-05

Rachel Maddow takes the NRCC and Andy Sere in particular to task over the disclosure of staffers’ personal addresses on Twitter.

Jeff Clark Offers to Drop Out of 5th CD Race if Source of Financial Info Comes Forward

On Sunday, the Daily Progress newspaper reported on the financial history of Jeff Clark, candidate for Congress from the 5th Congressional District. The revelations sounded like a history of almost anyone who has had debts, including medical, and tried to handle them. It was revealed in the article that Clark had declared bankruptcy at one point due to large debts, including mounting medical debt from serious health problems in the past.

Last evening, Brian McNeil of the Daily Progress reported that Clark has offered to drop out of the Congressional race if the person or persons that leaked this information to the press would come forward. He outlined conditions which would need to be met if he was to drop out of the race.

In order to drop out, Clark said, certain conditions must first be met. The person or persons who tipped off the media, he said, must reveal themselves, must say how they came in possession of the documents, disclose if they were compensated, reveal any political or campaign affiliation and say on whose behalf they gathered the information.

Clark said that in the interest of complete transparency, it would be worth it to drop out if the conditions are met.

Mark Lloyd, chair of the Lynchburg Tea Party, met with Clark a month ago in a restaurant in Lynchburg and told him he should drop out due to this information. At the time, Lloyd knew only of Clark’s bankruptcy, but not the other information.

In an interview, Lloyd said he knew about only Clark’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing in 1993 and didn’t realize Clark had such an extensive paper trail of unpaid medical bills and other expenses.

“I told Jeff that I had a person that basically found this out from a public records thing,” said Lloyd. “The only thing I knew about was the bankruptcy … I told him if he didn’t drop out, then this would come out.”

Lloyd, who said he was tipped off by a Lynchburg Tea Party member who wishes to remain anonymous, said he wasn’t trying to blackmail Clark into dropping out. He said he was merely warning Clark that running for office means that he will be vetted in public and his financial history would inevitably come out.

“There is no grand conspiracy,” Lloyd said. “There’s really no ‘there’ there.”

Clark, however, said it was quite clear that Lloyd was leaning on him to drop out.

“The whole point of the conversation was to try to get me to drop out,” Clark said. “He specifically told me, ‘This information doesn’t have to come out.’”

Campaign spokesmen for Perriello and Hurt both declined to comment Monday.

Obviously, this would change the dynamics of the race significantly.

Rep. Tom Perriello Opens His Farmville Office; Supporters Excited

The Farmville Perriello office opened officially last Friday at 6PM. Around 100 people came to see Tom and listen to what he had to say.