FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-00


October 6, 2000

Ken Schrad
Sent Via E-Mail

Dear Mr. Schrad:

Thank you for your kinds words and patience. I appreciate the extension of assistance from your office in any matter regarding the State Corporation Commission (SCC). A cooperative relationship between this office and other agencies of state and local government is a much sought-after goal and will enable this office to provide the type of service and assistance it was created to perform.

You have asked what advice I might give a citizen or a news reporter regarding the SCC and applicability of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It is the charge of this office to respond to specific inquiries. At this time I cannot conjecture about how I might respond to a specific inquiry about the applicability of FOIA. I am aware, however, of the Atlas and Gannon cases involving FOIA and the SCC, If you would like to discuss this matter further, please feel free to call me.

Your final question asks for my thoughts about what to communicate to SCC employees about the FOI Advisory Council and the services of the FOIA office. The Freedom of Information Advisory Council, by statute, has the authority to:

1. Furnish, upon request, advisory opinions or guidelines, and other appropriate information regarding the Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.1-340 et seq.) to any person or agency of state or local government, in an expeditious manner;

2. Conduct training seminars and educational programs for the members and staff of public bodies and other interested persons on the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act;

3. Publish educational materials as it deems appropriate on the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act;

4. Request from any agency of state or local government such assistance, services and information as will enable the Council to effectively carry out its responsibilities. Information provided to the Council by an agency of state or local government shall not be released to any other party unless authorized by such agency; and

5. Report annually on or before December 1 of each year on its activities and findings regarding the Freedom of Information Act, including recommendations for changes in the law, to the Governor and the General Assembly.

The Council does provide guidance to those seeking information under FOIA, but does not facilitate the actual receipt of information. By issuing advisory opinions, the Council hopes to resolve disputes by clarifying what the law requires and to guide future practices. As you can see by the 4th statutory power, the Council has limited authority to "intervene" and has chosen to consult "both sides" when the issue presented appears controversial. The Council has no authority to mediate disputes, but may be called upon as a resource to help fashion creative solutions in an attempt to remedy a dispute and facilitate compliance with the law.

As to your request for tips given to other state agencies regarding access to publicly available information, it is difficult in this context to capture the highlights of a training presentation. You and other employees at the SCC may wish to attend a FOIA Workshop sponsored by this office. For workshop information, please visit our website at: Alternatively, I am available to conduct public access training for specific groups if you have an interest.

The development of "tips for compliance" is certainly a goal of this office and with time to discern patterns, tips for compliance will be made available in printed materials prepared by this office and on our website.

Thank you for contacting this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.