Big turnout for VCOG FOIA, records management seminar
Nearly 100 people turned out for VCOG’s first seminar on records management and the Freedom of Information, held Sept. 13 at the Library of Virginia.
Representing 48 state and local agencies throughout the state, attendees received tips and strategies about using effective records management to make filling FOIA requests more efficient.
Frankie Gile, from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Policy Division, kicked things off with a live demonstration of the department’s FOIA-tracking system. Developed in the early 2000s for $75,000, the system has improved customer service and increased timely compliance by setting out a consistent cost-calculation method, monitoring outstanding payments and providing sample responses.
Craig Fifer, e-government manager for Alexandria, talked about both the spirit of open government when approaching FOIA duties, as well as the practical side of things. For instance, Fifer noted how retrieval of e-mail can be cumbersome if a solid e-mail storage strategy isn’t implemented. He encouraged the use of keywords, tags and/or metadata to make subsequent search and retrieval easier.
Library of Virginia Records Analyst Anita Vannucci detailed the duties government agencies have under the Public Records Act when it comes to records retention and destruction. She offered practical advice, too, like clearly labeling boxes and storing them at least three inches off the ground in case of flooding.
Maria Everett, director of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council urged audience members to approach their responsibilities with their “citizen hats” on, meaning that it’s important to imagine if they were being stonewalled when requesting records critical to their family’s welfare. Everett also asked once again if anyone had ever outlasted a FOIA requester in a battle over access. No one raised a hand, and Everett noted that in 10 years of asking the question to governments across the state, no one ever had.
VCOG presented the seminar in partnership with the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League, all of whom are VCOG members.