The trouble with phoning it in

A FOIA Council subcommittee is considering a proposal to double the reasons and number of times a board member can call into an otherwise in-person meeting (that is, in non-COVID times)

Transparency the most radical police reform of all

This piece originally ran in the Virginia Mercury, Aug. 17, 2020


I’m no expert on the art of policing. Beyond my personal opinions, I couldn’t tell you when the use of force is or isn’t appropriate, or to what extent police officers should be immune from lawsuits for their actions. I wouldn’t know how much militarized equipment is necessary or how much (and what kind of) training officers should receive.

No, Your FOIA Request Cannot Wait Until This Emergency is Over

"In the midst of a pandemic, it is reasonable to expect delays in processing public records requests and even incomplete responses, especially where public entities may not have access to physical files or other resources. But work-from-home orders have demonstrated that government can carry on remotely. New data, contracts and communications are being created digitally every day that would certainly fall under public access laws. Fulfilling FOIA requests can be grueling grunt work, but such labor should be deemed essential during the pandemic."

An imperfect, but temporary fix

Amid the honking horns, fainting leaders, plexiglass boxes and face mask fashion, it was easy to miss the governor's amendments to the budget bills that were approved Wednesday, unanimously by the House and with minimal dissent in the Senate, that allow public bodies to meet electronically during the time of a declared emergency "when it is impracticable or unsafe to assemble a quorum in a single location."

Time for transparency on COVID-19 hotbeds

Time for transparency on COVID-19 hotbeds

by Steve Stewart, Publisher of The Smithfield Times.
Originally published in The Smithfield Times

During a global pandemic, we tread lightly with criticism of pubic health professionals, who’ve served admirably and, in many cases, heroically while guiding society through the challenge of our lifetimes.

Yet, we can’t leave unchecked a recent lack of transparency that has stoked unnecessary fear and confusion in Isle of Wight County.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary efforts

NOTE: This column, by one of VCOG's founding board members, John Edwards, was originally published by The Smithfield Times. Edwards, the former editor of the Times, still writes a column for the paper, called In the Short Rows. Edwards was instrumental in setting up the FOIA Council and served on the council for his first several years.


Electronic meetings and democracy

Read the original editorial as it appeared in The Daily Progress, April 5, 2020.

Megan's note: I wish I had written this. It's perfect.

Opinion/Editorial: Democracy's health also must be shielded

Local governments are charting new territory in their move to electronic meeting forums.

Love & Sunshine Week in a Time of Coronavirus

It may be the height of irony during Sunshine Week -- the access and transparency community's annual love letter to open records and open meetings laws across our country -- to hear me say the rules of open government might not apply right now.


I've never been one to shy away from the soapbox, to point out inaccuracies, call out bad policy, question practices, or challenge interpretations. It would be fair (though not entirely accurate) to call me an absolutist: all access, all the time!


It's not supposed to be adversarial

FOIA requests by elected officials prompt backlash from fellow board members.

What’s behind increasing FOIA fees?

We are at a tipping point now because more and more requesters are seeing larger and larger bills. Without an understanding of the complexity of an email search, these charges appear not only arbitrary, but also punitive, a tool for discouraging requests.


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