A big welcome to our newest members:
John Bookhultz, Grottoes
Roger Hurlbert, Glen Ellen, Calif.
Daryl Kerkeslager, Powhatan
League of Women Voters, Loudoun County
Preston Manning, Staunton
Smith Mountain Eagle
Charles Rowe, Fredericksburg
Virginia League of Conservation Voters
Woods Rogers, Roanoke
VCOG Web site
Our new Web site (www.opengovva.org) is drawing an average of more than 700 "unique" visitors each week. Pages viewed each week average more than 6,000.
One of the most popular features is the new e-mail hotline, "Ask Us a FOIA Question." (See pages 18 and 19.) Inquiries are received daily from private citizens, government and media. Most questions get answered within 24 hours (the tough questions get kicked to the FOIA office for an answer).
A nice tip-of-the-hat appeared on the editorial page of The Staunton News Leader, which called the site "the single best source about how to get information from Virginia Government . . . you can get help creating an FOI request letter, get answers to questions about the Freedom of Information Act from experts on the topic, and download the . . .FOI Citizens Guide,’ a concise summary of what you can and cannot expect under the Commonwealth’s current FOIA laws."
The new Web site was introduced last November, with a special grant from the Knight Foundation.
NFOIC Web site
The National Freedom of Information Coalition has upgraded its Web site. Check out the new FOI resource at www.NFOIC.org .
NFOIC now has member coalitions in more than 40 states, and is working to form coalitions in all 50 states.
Executive Director Frosty Landon turned in his resignation 15 months early -- not that VCOG directors would require much time to find somebody better, he noted.
Landon, who will be 73 in three or four weeks, plans to retire (again) by June 30, 2007. In the meantime, a five-member search committee has been named by the VCOG Board of Directors to begin the job search. The committee is chaired by Wat Hopkins, a member of the Virginia Tech journalism faculty. Hopkins is vice president of the coalition.
Del. Paula Miller, D-Norfolk, chats with Coalition Associate Director Megan Rhyne during the March 10 Sunshine Reception at the General Assembly Building. With the backing of the state’s FOI Advisory Council, Virginia celebrated the second annual "Sunshine Week" with a reception for legislators, aides and the Division of Legislative Services. VCOG co-sponsored the reception with the FOI Advisory Council, the Virginia Association of Broadcasters and the Virginia Press Association. "Govern in Sunshine" wrist bands were given to the first 50 visitors. (We ran out early!) The early-morning reception featured coffee and cookies -- and, of course, plenty of "sunny" orange juice.
VCOG’s summer intern
Elizabeth Beck, a rising second-year law student at Washington & Lee University, joins the Coalition as the 2006 Laurence E. and Catharine G. Richardson Legal Fellow.
Working part-time from Lexington, Beck has written articles for the Coalition’s newsletter and has been working on a survey of state open government coalitions across the country. She is asking them questions about the strengths and weakness of their state’s FOI laws, as well as what they envision as some of their biggest challenges in the coming years.
The results from Elizabeth’s survey will be presented at Access 2006, the Coalition’s 8th annual conference, Nov. 17, at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
Elizabeth is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and despite her youthful age, she has a great deal of experience in grass-roots politics. She has worked on local, state and national Republican-candidate campaigns, and has also worked on various issue campaigns for the National Rifle Association.
Plans are always subject to change, of course, but Elizabeth has expressed an interest in working with election law, perhaps with a state board of elections.
Elizabeth is also working this summer at W&L’s Black Lung Clinic assisting current and former coalminers and their families pursue benefits from the Black Lung Benefits Review Board.
Albrights are famous
"NOW," the weekly PBS news program with David Brancaccio, took a look at Freedom of Information laws and open government during Sunshine Week. Lee and Paulette Albright were spotlighted on the program for their use of Virginia’s FOI Act to uncover improper spending practices ("disturbing profligacy," The Richmond Times-Dispatch called it) at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
VPA creates 1st Amendment award
The Virginia Press Association has created a First Amendment Award to recognize journalists, newspapers or citizens who, in an extraordinary way, seek to advance, defend or preserve the First Amendment.
The award will be given to those who challenge closed government, closed courtrooms, access to information or threats to press freedoms, such as search warrants and subpoenas. Recognition also could be given for extraordinary educational effort, including the teaching and training about the First Amendment and efforts that would change or strengthen laws pertaining to the First Amendment.
Nominations may be made by individual citizens, newspapers, educators or professional organizations. Contact the VPA for nomination forms. Judging will be made by independent press organizations designated by the Virginia Press Association’s Awards Committee.
The nomination should include information on what the nominee has done to be considered, plus supporting evidence for the nomination, such as news stories or other documents. Any additional information about the nominee that would be helpful in making a decision should also be sent.
Nominations can be sent to Ginger Stanley, executive director of the VPA, at 11529 Nuckols Road, Glen Allen, VA 23059, email:
; or Dick Hammerstrom, chairman of the FOIA Committee of the VPA, at the Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, VA 22401, email:
Mandamus petitions online
Think your FOIA request for records was wrongly denied?
Think your county board of supervisors went into a closed meeting illegally?
Fed up with not getting answers?
You may be ready to go to court.
No matter how much we wish that there was an informal mediation mechanism for resolving FOIA disputes, the sad fact remains that if we want to enforce our rights under FOIA, every once in a while we may have to enter into the judicial system.
Section §2.2-3713 specifically states that any person whose FOIA rights or privileges are denied can file a petition for an injunction or for a writ of mandamus (both essentially tell the public body to stop doing what it’s doing). The petition must be accompanied by an affidavit showing good cause.
But what’s a petition and what do you say in it?
It will vary case by case, of course, but the Virginia court system also has a basic form you can fill out that starts the legal ball rolling. The form is specifically for FOIA cases, and it asks specific questions about what happened and what has led you to this point. There’s also an instruction form to help you out.
But you don’t have to go to the courthouse to get a form, or even navigate the court’s Byzantine Web site. Instead, go to the Coalition’s Web site: www.opengovva.org . In the yellow left-hand menu on the left, click on "Current FOI Law & FAQs." On that page, immediately under the Table of Contents and before the first section of the law, you’ll see the line that says, "The form needed to begin a FOIA case in district court can be found here. Directions for using the form can be found here."
Both forms are PDFs and both are pretty small in byte size, so even dial-up Internet connections will be able to download the files quickly.
Join us at the state library for a 10th anniversary party
Plan now to attend the 10th anniversary VCOG Gala at the Library of Virginia.
Honorary co-chairs for the Nov. 16 event are Governor Tim Kaine, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, House Speaker Bill Howell and former Governor Jerry Baliles.
The reception and dinner will cap a year-long fund-raising drive to create a half-million-dollar endowment fund for Virginia’s open-government coalition.
Income from the fund will be used to expand VCOG services and assure its long-term financial stability.
To date, $190,000 has been raised in contributions, firm pledges and Gala sponsorships; an equal amount has been pledged by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Major event sponsors include Dominion; the family of Catharine and Laurence Richardson; Media General; Landmark Newspapers; the Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg; the Daily Press, Newport News; WTVR, Richmond; Freedom Forum; Christian & Barton, Richmond; Virginia Press Association; and the Virginia Association of Broadcasters.
The reception will begin at 6:15 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. Gala tickets are $250 each ($150 of which is tax-deductible). Seating is limited. Black-tie attire is optional. Free parking will be available after 5 p.m. in the library’s parking garage.
Hotel rooms are available for overnight lodging at the Downtown Richmond Omni (804-344-7000). Ask for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s special $100 rate, available through Oct. 16.
All Gala proceeds will be earmarked for the VCOG endowment, with the first $200,000 matched 1:1 by the Knight Foundation. The foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 28 U.S. communities. It supports the work of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and NFOIC’s member coalitions in more than 40 states. Previous projects funded by Knight and NFOIC include VCOG’s Web sites; our citizens’ FOIA guide; a statewide secrecy/privacy /open-government poll; a startup fund for FOI litigation and legal fellowships; and promotional materials for Virginia’s FOI office.
For more information about the Gala, visit www.opengovva.org , e-mail us at
or call us at 540-353-8264.
Making Your FOIA Life Easier
A seminar for state and local records managers at the Library of Virginia
800 E. Broad St., Richmond
Thursday, May 30, 2013
9:00 - 12:00
Click here for a paper registration form OR
(note: you do NOT need a PayPal account to use the PayPal payment page)
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FOIA Council Subcommittee on Rights & Responsibilities
FOIA Council Subcommittee on Electronic Meetings
Making Your FOIA Life Easier - a records management seminar
How Many Clicks?
VCOG surveyed all 134 Virginia counties and independent cities and asked,
"How many clicks does it take to get to your local budget?"
Now, click the owl and find out how YOUR locality ranked.
Drive your open government pride
Show your FOIA pride!
Get the new FOIA car magnet.