Megan Rhyne's blog

FOIA is part public relations

When my good friend Maria Everett gives presentations to state and local governments as director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Council, she frequently tells people that sometimes, even when what they are doing is legally defensible under the Freedom of Information Act, sometimes it is better from a public relations standpoint, not to do it.

Sometimes you see the same concept phrased like this: it's as important to adhere to the spirit of the law as it is to the letter of the law.

Consider these recent examples:

Testify! But make it brief.

Now that the legislative committee system has wound down (save for the budget conference, which isn't exactly a forum for broad citizen input), I wanted to highlight this column that ran last weekend in the Washington Post.

Upcoming for Sunshine Week

Sunshine Week is an effort spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Spanning the week of March 16, which is the birthday of James Madison, the patron saint of open records, the effort seeks to highlight the ways in which public records figures into our everyday lives.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is the Virginia coordinator for Sunshine Week.

Below are a few things on tap for this Sunshine Week.

Closed meeting on coach fumbles

The school board for Williamsburg and James City County met Tuesday in closed session to discuss a personnel issue.

Last fall, a successful high school football had been accused last fall of mistreating a player during practice. The athletic department's investigation cleared the coach, but the parent who complained took the matter to the administrative officers, where the coach got word that he was about to be fired. He resigned instead, effective at the end of the season. The coach said recently that he tried to rescind his resignation but that administrators wouldn't let him.

FOIA harassment revisited

Last year, thanks in large part to some stirring testimony from two VCOG members, a bill that would have allowed government to sue a citizen that the government felt was harassing it with FOIA requests was sent to the FOIA Council for further study.

The discussions in those FOIA Council study committees was thorough and often impassioned. Ultimately, there was no agreement and the full FOIA Council declined to recommend any measures to the 2011 General Assembly.

Comstock's 2

McLean delegate Barbara Comstock is introducing two bills we find particularly noteworthy.

One is called the Government Transparency Act and it attempts to create a website that would allow users to search for and aggregate various information, like

Mandatory designation

An interesting FOIA bill was filed yesterday by Del. Bob Marshall. In HB1722 Marshall proposes to add a requirement that

Voting history bill

Del. Jim LeMunyon and Del. Mark Keam have again introduced a measure to put legislators' voting histories on the legislature's website. The point is to make voting histories on bills, amendments, even committee votes, easily accessible and searchable.

Here's what the two delegates had to say in a press release issued yesterday:

Names and salary

Sen. Steve Martin of Chesterfield has introduced SB 812, which would prohibit the disclosure of a public employee's name when releasing information related to that employee's salary or reimbursements.

Here's what the bill says:

 

2.2-3705.8. Limitation on record exclusions.

Public notices: a PUBLIC issue

The Roanoke Times wrote this editorial today saying that governments should post notices of special public meetings in the newspapers, not just on government websites, libraries or text alerts.

First, a clarification. We're talking here about those statutorily mandated public hearing meetings, like the ones held before certain zoning decisions are made, or for school redistricting, etc. We're not talking about the ordinary-course-of-business meetings of councils, boards or commissions.

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