Richmond, Virginia’s public housing agency is working to demolish public housing while excluding the public from any input in the process.
In response to a request through the state public records law to issue meeting schedule, the agency left out a critical meeting. In response to another request for public comments the agency received, the agency excluded comments that were especially damning.
And by the time this had all come to light, the agency’s Board of Commissioners had, in fact, already voted on the plans in question weeks ahead of schedule.
Last week, on the eve of the first Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority board meeting since the public comment period on unpopular plans to demolish public housing closed, the agency offered (largely positive) comments in response to a FOIA request.
Immediately after publishing those comments, MuckRock received additional comments that had been left out of the release, from the people who had submitted them. We circled back to RRHA, which claimed that the omitted comments had been provided after the initial release.
That night, a group of about 100 gathered at the RRHA in opposition to the agency’s one-year and five-year plans, only to learn that the lack of transparency goes much deeper. The plans had been acted on nearly a month before this meeting, and weeks before the comment period closed.
The comment period that community groups and activists only learned about in the week before it closed - because it was not advertised by RRHA - was effectively over before any of this public input was received.
The overflow crowd that packed the board’s July 17th meeting was absent at a June public hearing on the plans. Why? Because RRHA tucked the public meeting notice in the corner of its reception area. It was never mentioned anywhere beyond this lonely corner.
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This kind of move, while infuriating, falls within Virginia’s public meeting laws. And RRHA wasn’t shy about saying so. Asked for a public engagement plan for meetings, this is how the agency responded:
MuckRock always assumes good faith when working with agencies - large and small - to obtain public records.
There are limits to assuming good faith. Responding to FOIA is the law, and the law does not say information can be excluded without reason.
“Confusion” isn’t a public records exemption. Especially when RRHA expects its tenants to pay rent on time and in full.
Read the omitted comments embedded below, or on the request page:
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