January 2012 newsletter

FOIA in the courts!

At least 9 court cases, at all court levels, will shape and define the state's FOIA landscape

This has been a busy year for the Freedom of Information Act in Virginia's courts. From challenges to the residency requirement in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to the standoff in Onancock over an employment contract, citizens, activists and government took to the courts to right what they considered wrongs in the interpretation or application of FOIA.

VCOG Bulletin Board, January 2012

It's been tough, but VCOG has said farewell to five members of the board of directors in the past five months.

In August, Ed Reams, who was an appointee of the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, stepped down when he took a new position at a Milwaukee TV station. Reams had been vice president for news at WHSV in Harrisonburg.

VCOG 2011 Annual Conference

A snowy(!), gray morning yielded to afternoon sun on Mr. Jefferson's mountain, Saturday, Oct. 29, as several dozen citizens, journalists and even a politician or two joined VCOG in discussing open government issues of the day at Access 2011.

A grand tribute to a grand man: Bob O'Neil

Nearly 200 luminaries, from comedians and actresses, to First Amendment scholars, U.S. Supreme Court correspondents and Virginia governors, joined together to pay tribute to Bob O'Neil, VCOG's founding president and founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

VCOG partnered with the Thomas Jefferson Center to host the dinner Oct. 29 at the University of Virginia law school.

General Assembly 2012 preview

At press time in mid-December, only a handful of bills that deal directly with open government had been filed. Prince William Republicans Del. Bob Marshall and Sen. Richard Black have filed matching bills that would withhold state funding for Phase II of the Dulles Metrorail Project if the project's parent agency (the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority) does not open its records to view under FOIA.

FOIA Council Updates and Opinions, January 2012

The FOIA Council is not recommending any legislation this year. The council created two study committees to consider legislation referred to it from the 2011 session.

Around the Commonwealth, January 2012

GOOCHLAND: Under FOIA's •2.2-3705.1(10), the government can withhold from release the email addresses of citizens who have signed up for government email alerts. There's a catch, though: the exemption is only available when the citizen "has requested that the public body not disclose such information." When the provision was drafted, it was understood that this meant citizens could "opt out" when they signed up for the email alerts. Local governments in particular made use of the exemption by making the opt-out option standard on all their online sign-up forms.

The Power to Enforce FOIA

Director's Cut
by Megan Rhyne
VCOG Executive Director 

Much attention this summer was directed at the governor's Government Reform Commission's revelation that it held a series of closed-door workgroups to discuss policy recommendations. Last year the commission used public committees to consider recommendations, so when the commission's staff announced in April that it would use the workgroup format, I don't think anyone thought they would be anything other than open to the public also.

FOIA 101: recording meetings

Here's what Virginia's FOIA says in •2.2-3707(H) about recording meetings:

Any person may photograph, film, record or otherwise reproduce any portion of a meeting required to be open. The public body conducting the meeting may adopt rules governing the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming or recording a meeting to prevent interference with the proceedings, but shall not prohibit or otherwise prevent any person from photographing, filming, recording, or otherwise reproducing any portion of a meeting required to be open.

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