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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.

 

FOIA tips and strategies

VCOG was pleased to play host yesterday, May 22, to David Cuillier’s Access Across America tour. Forty citizens, private investigators and print and broadcast journalists signed up to spend their Saturday afternoon hearing Cuillier deliver a lively presentation on the power of public records and strategies for getting them.

 

The Society of Professional Journalists and the National FOI Coalition are sponsoring Cuillier’s roadshow, which, to date, has hit 17 states, and has something like 15 more to go.

 

Economic Development: Surprise!

In today’s troubled economic times, it’s not hard to understand the sense of nervous excitement generated by the prospect of a new business locating in the area or of an existing business expanding: jobs, tax revenue, community involvement, stability.

 

If there were ever any doubt, see the crushing flip side of this when, say, the paper mill in Franklin County closed down earlier this year.

 

Discussion is good

In an excellent editorial published in late April, the Daily Press criticized the Hampton City Council’s recent changes to the citizen comment period of public meetings.

 

The Daily Press didn’t fault the city for wanting to improve the meetings’ efficiency, or to eliminate personal attacks or the rehashing of past decisions. The newspaper’s complaint instead was this: “governing bodies that don’t engage the public during the public input parts of their meetings.”

 

FOIA: it doesn't matter who you are

Prince William County resident Mark Hjelm finally got his day in court April 14. And it was a pretty good day.

 

The aftermath, well, that’s not so pretty.

 

Hjelm has been locked in battle with the Prince William County School system for the past few years over Hjelm’s FOIA request to view visitor log data from the district’s Raptor visitor-identification system.

 

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