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Access in the Courts

 

It was a busy week in the courts last week for access to government records, and I'm not even talking about the release on Wikileaks of tens of thousands of classified documents related to the war in Afganistan.

 

Right here in Virginia, three cases in varying stages of litigation were bright on the access horizon.

 

Want a better FOIA life? Try getting more organized

Better records management and better tracking of FOIA requests can make a government clerk's ability to keep up with FOIA duties easier.

Fee, fi, fo, fum: update/response

I received two comments yesterday from readers about another reader's suggestion for reducing costs from the Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum post earlier this week. The original suggestion came from a frequent records requester in California, and it appears that Virginia law isn't set up in a way to make the suggestion feasible. (p.s. Changes to VCOG Blog are in the works to allow responses to be posted.) Here's the quote the two comments refer to:

Fee, fi, fo, fum

According to the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Mississippi, the Magnolia state's open records law says public bodies can charge the "actual cost" for providing the records. "Who knew those two words could be interpreted in so many ways?" the center asks in its spring newsletter.

 

Virginia's citizens-only FOIA limitation

The law is the law is the law.

 

We can have heartfelt and earnest discussions about whether certain laws should exist. We can also reasonably debate the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law.

 

Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, we should also add to the mix the role common sense plays in the law’s application.

 

Maybe the fact that the law is weighted in favor of the citizen leads some individuals who fill FOIA requests to relay on the strict interpretation of the law when requests are made of them.

 

The Art of the Ask

A few weeks ago I talked about the great tips and strategies suggested by David Cuillier in his Access Across America talk. Between the things Cuillier had to say during the presentation, the fantastic handouts and Cuillier’s book, The Art of Access, there are so many helpful suggestions that it’s hard to pick among as candidates for further exploration.

 

Discretion is the better part of FOIA

Public records in Virginia are presumed open. As such, they must be disclosed upon request unless a law in another part of the Virginia (or, possibly federal) law prohibits it. Period.

 

But, wait a minute, what about exemptions to disclosure in FOIA? Don’t those prohibit disclosure?

 

No, no they don’t.

 

FOIA’s 142-some-odd exemptions are discretionary. They do not require disclosure, they do not prohibit disclosure. Instead, they allow records to be withheld in the custodian’s discretion.

 

Nope to scope

It happened again today.

 

Some FOIA issues come up over and over and over. Usually, it’s an overarching issue with lots of possible permutations. That is, maybe it’s an issue having to do with response time, but there are a thousand different scenarios. Or, maybe it’s about exemptions, but there are over 120 exemptions and thus at least 120 different issues.

 

About those iPads

There were two stories last week in the Daily Press about the Hampton City Council and its efforts to reduce the cost of public meetings.

 

The first story, “Hampton City Council may ditch the costly paper agendas,” sets us up, telling us that it costs an average of $1,500 to print agendas for council meetings, with a meeting in early May costing $4,145.

 

UVA home to two open-government issues

It was a cruel spring at Mr. Jefferson’s University. In what should have been a time of flowering dogwoods and days of hope and promise for the future, the University of Virginia found itself in the midst of two issues of national interest, and both including a transparency element.

 

 

The first, and most regrettable, is the murder of UVA women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love, presumably at the hands of men’s lacrosse player, George Huguely.

 

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