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An embarrassment of riches?

A subcommittee of the Virginia FOIA Council is still studying what to do with Sen. Steve Newman's bill introduced in 2011 and sent to the council for study. As originally drafted, the bill would prohibit the name of a public employee to be released in connection with that employee's salary data.

In Virginia, salary data and names are required to be disclosed. Salary is not a personnel issue, in other words. The requirement also says that it does not apply to anyone making under $10,000.

What is the intended use of FOIA?

I'm incredibly proud of the Cavalier Daily for wading into the controversy surrounding UVA's response to the American Tradition Institute's request of a former professor's email on climate change.

The power to enforce

Much attention was recently directed at the governor's Government Reform Commission's revelation that it held a series of closed-door workgroups to discuss possible recommendations. Last year the commission used public committees to consider recommendations, so when the commission's staff announced in April that it would use the workgroup format, I don't think anyone thought they would be anything other than open to the public also.

Back-channel business

I received a disturbing note this week from an anonymous state government employee. This person contacted me about how individuals in his/her agency were using gmail accounts and Dropbox-type clouds to discuss public business.

Reform the Reform Work Groups

by Megan Rhyne

(This article originally appeared in the Times-Dispatch, Sept. 8, 2011)
(Also note: the day before the article appeared, the Governor said that work groups in which 3 or more commission members participated would be open; no word on whether groups with fewer members would be open, too.) 

 

Conduct policy is no good for press or public

Imagine our disbelief if a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked U.S. Representative Randy Forbes for comments on the debt ceiling crisis, only to be told that Mr. Forbes couldn't say anything until he talked to Rep. John Boehner first.

Imagine our outrage if someone from the Midlothian Exchange asked Virginia Sen. John Watkins for his opinion on insurance coverage for autism therapy, only to be told that Mr. Watkins couldn't comment until he'd run it by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

FOIA Council to study criminal records proposal

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council's subcommittee on criminal records will use less formal work sessions to study a proposal by the Virginia Press Association to redo section 2.2-3706, the FOIA section dedicated to law enforcement records.

Editorial: Are we really in favor of free speech?

By John Edwards
The Smithfield Times 

A couple weeks ago, we published on this page a quote from the late Howard Broun, a noted newspaper journalist of a century ago. The quote, it seems, is worth pondering today: "Almost nobody means precisely what he says when he makes the declaration, 'I'm in favor of free speech.'"

Drop everything?

When a New York school district hired a new employee to take care of open records requests, the deputy superintendent for the district had this to say: "We can't be digging out all this information at the same time we're trying to deal with legal issues, budget issues and reduced administrative staff."

His frustration is probably shared by just about every local government in the nation. State government, too.

Local governments in particular have more to do, but less money and fewer people to do it with. They're swamped.

FOIA is and FOIA isn't

In preparation for tomorrow's seminars in Roanoke on FOIA and on records management, I asked our presenters to put together a list of FOIA tips and/or strategies. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing what they come up with.

And in the meantime, I came up with a list of my own.

What would you add?

IN GENERAL

FOIA is a tool for gaining access to records; it's not for getting "information" or answers to questions.

FOIA is not adversarial: keep it cordial and professional.

RECORDS

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