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Augusta County 'Weighs Options' after FOIA Defeat: Mulls Appeal, Reporter Demands Production





Written by: Michael Phillips


STAUNTON, VIRGINIA – After a groundbreaking court ruling favoring transparency and open governance, the spotlight turns to Augusta County as it deliberates an appeal, a move seen by many as a tactic to delay the release of the March 20 Board of Supervisor Recording. This critical juncture underscores a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for transparency, casting a shadow over the county's administrative practices.


The County's Hesitation: A Resistance to Transparency?

Today counsel for Breaking Through Media and Augusta County met and conferred regarding the recent Court ruling. Counsel for Breaking Through advised that the County indicated it is "weighing its options" regarding an appeal against Judge Thomas J. Wilson, IV's ruling. This contemplation by the county, viewed by transparency advocates as a stalling tactic, has intensified the dialogue around the necessity of immediate transparency and compliance with judicial mandates.


Attorney Amina Matheny-Willard, representing Breaking Through Media and Orlando, highlighted her perspective regarding the County's intransigence or unwillingness to comply with FOIA laws in her closing argument filing in the Circuit Court. "Those who disobey the law should be dealt with as children and should be grateful when they are taught a lesson; the Court should teach the County’s Board of Supervisors their lesson today and they should be grateful for that education and take it to heart." The Court's ruling, crystal clear in its meaning, appears to not have moved the County to immediately embrace transparency.


Journalistic Vigilance: The Role of Reporters in Responding to Corruption

Journalist Samuel Joseph Orlando, instrumental in bringing the issue to the fore, emphasizes the critical role of media vigilance in such situations. "The only reason the people of Augusta are one step closer to answers is the dogged journalistic efforts of multiple reporters. This is particularly true of the Augusta Free Press, and its editor Chris Graham who actually began this legal effort". Orlando asserted the role of a free press is critical in fighting against governmental corruption.


"The court's decision was unambiguous, and any delay in producing the recordings undermines the very principles of transparency and accountability that form the cornerstone of our democracy. It is our duty as journalists to ensure these principles are not merely upheld but vigorously defended," Orlando remarked, highlighting the media's role in safeguarding the public's right to know.


The legal standoff between Augusta Free Press and Breaking Through Media on one side, and Augusta County on the other, has shone a light on the inherent tension between governmental transparency and the tendency toward administrative secrecy. The county's current posture raises important questions about the commitment of elected officials to uphold the statutes they are sworn to uphold and the public's right to scrutinize the actions of their government. While Augusta County "weighs it's options", the people of Augusta County are kept in the dark.


A Call for Accountability and Transparency

As Augusta County contemplates its next steps, the implications of its decision resonate far beyond the confines of the courtroom. "The path to true transparency and accountability is fraught with challenges, but it is a journey that must be undertaken. The citizens of Augusta County, and indeed all citizens, deserve a governance structure that is open, transparent, and responsive to judicial mandates," Orlando noted, urging a reflection on the importance of adherence to the principles of democracy.


In the face of ongoing deliberations, Breaking Through Media continues its vigilant oversight, embodying the journalistic commitment to ensuring that the tenets of open governance are not merely theoretical ideals but lived realities. The unfolding developments in this case will likely serve as a significant benchmark, illuminating the ongoing struggle for transparency and the need for unwavering commitment to the principles of open and accountable governance.


As the County "weighs it's options", the people of Augusta County are left to ponder... just what on earth is on those recordings that has so many grown adults, elected officials even, so cautiously guarding their secrets?

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