Updated at 8:13 p.m.
Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney’s calendar appears to show that she had no conflicts during several suggested meeting times with the initial Police Civilian Review Board in May and June, although emails to a board member indicated she was busy.
The Daily Progress obtained Brackney’s calendar for the first six months of 2019 through an open records request.
The board is tasked with creating bylaws for a permanent oversight panel and has been in a public spat recently with the chief and city officials over scheduling a meeting to discuss a memorandum of understanding. The City Council has indicated the MOU will be negotiated after the board’s bylaws are approved.
“[M]y calendar reflects confirmed, and scheduled meetings, not those that are being requested or considered,” Brackney wrote in an email to The Progress on Monday. “Please do not assume that a non-busy hour on the calendar is unaccounted for in my daily schedule.”
According to emails provided by the city in a press release and by board member Josh Bowers, Brackney’s secretary, Jessica Downey, said the “earliest” Brackney could meet this month was May 8 and she offered some one-hour time slots.
However, based on the one-hour time slot suggestion, Brackney’s calendar appears to show she was available May 1, May 2 and May 3, three dates that Bowers suggested.
Downey also said Brackney is not available May 20 to May 24, another date range that Bowers suggested. However, Brackney’s calendar appears to show her free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 20, nearly all day May 22 and all morning May 24. She also appeared to have periodic availability on May 21.
Bowers also suggested scheduling a meeting between June 10 and June 21, but Downey said Brackney was unavailable on those dates.
The calendar appears to show that Brackney is available between June 18 and June 21.
Bowers later suggested any time in June. The chief’s calendar has free time between June 3 and June 5 and June 24 and June 26.
Brackney emphasized that Bowers’ request for a June meeting was for an evening meeting. His first email indicates that he wanted an evening meeting, while the second only requests some time in June.
Brackney said the calendar provided also ends at 6 p.m. and “does not capture many of the evening commitments including personal evening time.”
“[W]hat is not reflected is the day-to-day duties and responsibilities encumbered upon me as the Chief of Police for Charlottesville,” she wrote.
City spokesman Brian Wheeler estimated that a separate request for emails between Brackney or her secretary and the City Council or CRB members and emails between CRB members and councilors would cost $3,000 to fulfill. The city said it would require a $700 deposit to begin compiling the information.
When asked to explain the charges, Wheeler said the city is not required to do so under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
State law allows localities to “make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records.”
The government is not required to provide a breakdown of the costs.
However, Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said that although the law doesn’t require a cost breakdown, providing one often has been a “normal part of the process.”
“Generally, I think the government has been very good about providing breakdowns of costs,” Rhyne said. “We might not like what they come up with, but at least it gives us a starting point to look at and determine if the charges are reasonable.”
Charlottesville’s refusal is only the second time Rhyne has seen a local government decline to explain the charges, she said. Both instances were “outliers,” she said. Rhyne has been working with the coalition since 1998.
“I don’t think it’s very transparent,” Rhyne said. “I don’t think it’s very helpful.”
The denial makes it difficult to challenge estimates in court because a judge would be unable to view the expenses, Rhyne said. It also hinders anyone requesting information from paring down their request to cut down on costs because it is hard to tell what is driving up the charge.
In comparison, the city didn’t charge The Daily Progress for a request for emails between councilors and former Clerk of Council Paige Rice between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, 2018, although the request produced 225 pages of documents and required legal review when 18 emails were withheld.
Brackney’s calendar appears to contradict a now partially retracted press release sent last month about comments Bowers made at the board’s April 23 meeting.
The city sent out a press release later that week saying Bowers’ comments about Brackney’s willingness to schedule a public meeting were inaccurate.
The city later retracted that statement.
The release focused on a Progress article about the meeting, which wasn’t recorded or attended by any city employee. Brackney also provided a comment to The Progress calling the headline “disingenuous and inherently false” and saying that the story contained statements that were “false, misleading and inaccurate.”
The release said Brackney’s office has “established an open line of communication with the CRB to ensure any questions, concerns, or scheduling matters were addressed. In spite of those efforts, the Board has often gone for weeks and months without communicating with Chief Brackney concerning a Memorandum of Understanding between the CRB and the Charlottesville Chief of Police.”
The Progress also requested Brackney’s emails about media coverage during her tenure, which Wheeler said would cost $500 to produce and require a $200 deposit.