Redaction: for obvious reasons

Onancock Activist Claims FOIA Violations
By Linda Cicoira
Eastern Shore Post

An Onancock activist complained to Town Council last week that his right to public information has been denied since August.

Charles Landis of Holly Street said this violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) involves his request for a copy of the town attorney/manager's employment contract. He also contends that Council should not have discussed a town policy in closed session.

Landis said a letter from Town Attorney/ Manager Thomas Robinett, dated Aug. 17, 2011, advised Landis that the State Code exempts Robinett's contract from the FOIA. "As town attorney, he knew or should have known, this was not true," said Landis. "Virginia Code ... specifically states his employment agreement is not exempt from disclosure under FOIA," said Landis.

"The agreement Mr. Robinett posted on the town website is not his actual employment agreement," said Landis. "It is undated, unsigned, and his start date is July 1, 2011, not his actual start date, which was August 1."

"Prior to July 25, 2011, town policy required" Robinett "to reside in town," said Landis, adding that the purpose of the July 25, 2011, closed meeting was to change that policy. Landis contends the closed meeting was also a violation of the FOIA.

"If the date on which he signed his employment agreement is prior to July 25, 2011, then in effect the secret meeting had purpose or consequence to cover up a violation of town residency policy with a residence policy of personal interest and benefit to Mr. Robinett," Landis wrote to Council on Oct. 24. That day, Landis addressed Council.

"I suggest ... Robinett deliver to me not later than close of business Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, a copy of his employment agreement including ... a signed letter stating the agreement is a true and only agreement ever entered into between Mr. Robinett and Town Council." He further suggested that "members of the Personnel Committee (Robinett and Council Members Kris LaMontagne, Richard Pearsall and Michelle Marsh) sign a waiver of disclosure exception for all correspondence between them relating to Mr. Robinett's employment agreement."

"If I have not received notice of decision on waiver by Nov. 1, 2011, I will consider it a decision by the Personnel Committee to continue to cover up violations of law and to deceive citizens of Onancock."

Robinett responded in a prepared statement he carbon-copied to members of Council, "I'm not sure why you are requesting a copy of my employment contract, as it was on the town's website, available for download, for at least two weeks. I'm certain you are aware of that. Nevertheless, I am forwarding a copy of the very same document which was on the website, with the dates and signatures redacted for obvious reasons. The dates were also in my handwriting and the mayor's. I signed on June 16 and the mayor on June 23. Therefore, consistent with Virginia Code ... the requested record has been provided."

"Next, you have requested a letter from me stating that the enclosed contract a true and only agreement." Robinett said that "the requested record does not exist in the hands of the town and therefore will not be provided," as is allowed by state law, Robinett also said Landis requested "a waiver of disclosure exception signed by me and various members of council." He said that also "does not exist in the hands of the town, and ... will not be provided."

"Lastly, I note that the invoice I sent you last August for previous FOIA documents remains unpaid," Robinett wrote to Landis. "Please note that, although I am providing you with a response to this request," law "expressly provides that a request for further documents may not be processed until this invoice is paid if it is more than 30 days old."