If a vote isn't recorded, does it make a sound?

The following was written by Zhina Kamali, VCOG's first Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship and was published in The Roanoke Times on Feb. 16, 2015.


By Zhina Kamali

Each day I am at the General Assembly Building I think I have seen it all. And each day something new comes up that surprises me even more than the last.

Open data's promise

IN EARLY December, President Obama announced a series of measures aimed at closing the gap between citizens and law enforcement. One of those measures was a plan to distribute $263 million in funding for agencies to purchase body cameras that can be used during police interactions with citizens.

Conversations lead to innovation

This is a column about conversations. 

Give the people what they want

I went to the book store today. I like browsing, though sometimes I’m looking for something in particular. Like today. I’d heard there might be a book about a Vietnamese artist who painted complicated still lives of cats playing tennis next to the Panama Canal. I just had to have it!

A beautiful stack of best sellers greeted me at the door. They were very nice, and I sure did like knowing they were there, but I moved on to the information desk because I didn’t know whether to look for my book in the section for artists, animals, sports or history.

Let's not make this harder

Lately I’ve been seeing some pretty novel reasons why records cannot be provided to requesters. These aren’t in the same category as conflicting interpretations of exemptions, where one says a document is protected by an exemption and another claims the exemption doesn’t apply.

No, this is in the way records are delivered or not delivered, as the case may be.

The most recent example comes to via Hawes Spencer, formerly of The Hook and now doing reporting for WTVF radio.

Talking about public business

Talking about public business

There’s a phrase that gets bandied about occasionally by public officials when asked by reporters for comment about a particular matter. It’s meant as a conversation stopper; a statement against which no reasonable person could or would argue because it is meant to convey a certainty, as steadfast and unassailable as a the gaze of the Sphinx.

There are several versions of the phrase, but essentially it goes like this:

“I can’t comment on something we discussed in closed session.”

Ugly Mug

Fifteen years ago, there was a delayed, but nonetheless welcome ground shift in perception of what a public record is. By the turn of the century, just about everyone was already doing most of their reports and spreadsheets in electronic format, and email was well on its way to being the default mode of interoffice communication.

Survey Says!

In April and May, VCOG surveyed its members and supporters about their views of FOIA -- what problems they encounter, what works, what doesn’t work. 


Actually, what is the cost?

Fees are a never-ending struggle between government and records requesters. Virginia FOIA says: government can “make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in  accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records.”

The Virginia Supreme Court just confirmed that government can charge for the time it takes to review -- and, by implication, redact and decide that a record is exempt  -- so now there’s a little more guidance (for better or for worse) on when a charge for labor can be imposed.


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