Sunshine Report for June 2013



In this issue

VCOG launches new website

Attorney General FOIA confusion

FOIA Council updates

Open government in the news

Coalition News

Recently on VCOG Blog

Former VCOG board member admonishes, "We can do better"
Former VCOG Board of Directors member Waldo Jaquith told an audience of open government, transparency and access advocates that "we can do better" when it comes to government delivery of public information. In addition to urging government to routinely make government data available online, Jaquith demonstrated "The State Decoded" project he's been working on with a grant from the Knight Foundation. The Virginia Decoded site is the prototype for the project, which seeks to present state codes in a more accessible, readable and useable format. The site links to code provisions, definitions, case law and legislative history, and allows users to comment and share provisions. Jaquith spoke at the annual conference of the National FOI Coalition's FOI Summit. A video of Jaquith's talk can be found here. And here's anarchive of tweets from the summit.

FOIA car magnets
VCOG FOIA magnets are available for $5 on VCOG's website. It's also easy to add a VCOG membership to your purchase. Once you have your magnet in place, post a picture of it to VCOG's Facebook page, or attach it to a tweet with the hashtag #vaFOIA. 

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FOIA Council updates

The Freedom of Information Advisory Council issued three advisory opinions in May.

In AO-03-13, the office restated the requirements for a motion to convene a closed meeting, concluding the Cape Charles Town Council could have been more specific, but its motions were within FOIA's parameters.

In AO-04-13, the office confirmed that a committee that does not advise a public body or perform a delegated function is not itself a public body for purposes of FOIA's meetings provisions, but that the committee's records would be considered public records.

In AO-05-13, the office reviewed allowable charges, noting that it was "not clear how it would actually cost $53 to attach an electronic document to an electronica mail message, regardless of how many pages it contains."

Meanwhile, two council subcommittees set up three workgroups to study: (1) regional public bodies and electronic meetings; (2) possibly moving the State Corporation Commission under FOIA's provisions; and (3) possibly granting FOIA access to records requesters from other states.



VCOG launches updated, redesigned website

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is pleased to announced the launch of its new, upgraded and mobile website:

The new site still has all the same great content of the old site, including our one-of-a-kind searchable archive of court, attorney general and Freedom of Information Advisory Council opinions interpreting FOIA, as well as the full text of FOIA, legislative updates and resources for making FOIA requests and asking us FOIA questions.

The new site, in addition to being easier to navigate and featuring more graphics and images, also includes a feed of Transparency News (VCOG's daily newsletter), as well as the latest Twitter posts from @opengovva. You’ll find that we are expanding our blog to include news and smaller items, in addition to the thoughtful and informative commentary you’ve come to rely on.

And if you’re on the go, take with you. The site has been optimized for tablets and smartphones: no more squinting at tiny type.

We’re still at the same address and all your bookmarks should still work.

The website was made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Attorney General FOIA confusion

The Office of the Attorney General surprised everyone last month by asserting that, while it would continue to provide records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, FOIA did not, in fact apply to the office at all.

At least two FOIA requesters received responses to their requests that included a footnote claiming that a2011 Virginia Supreme Court opinion, holding the State Corporation Commission was not subject to FOIA, also applied to its office.

The office confirmed its claim in a statement May 18, but then backed off -- sort of -- by the 20th. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said at that time that he will no longer routinely assert that the office was not subject to FOIA. He stopped short, though, of stating explicitly that FOIA did indeed apply, leading VCOG's Megan Rhyne to comment that "a better step would have been for the Attorney General to distance himself from the footnote altogether."

FOIA contains three exemptions -- including the powerful working papers and correspondence exemption -- that specifically mention the Attorney General. Constitutional officers are explicitly made subject to FOIA for their records, and there's a fourth mention of the AG in the enforcement section.

Open government in the news

The Attorney General ruled in early May that a school superintendent was within her rights when she refused law enforcement requests for the scholastic records of a student who made threatening comments online....The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments, including five minutes from an attorney from Facebook, to determine if Hampton police officers were wrongly terminated for exercising their free speech rights when they were fired for clicking "like" on the sheriff's election opponent's Facebook page....Augusta County recently unveiled a database that will allow users to search more than 900,000 digitized county records from the early 1800s. Meanwhile, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation held a reception to formally accept a donation of more than 2,500 documents of Philip Mazzei, a longtime friend of Jefferson's....After a 10-month absence, a Lynchburg City Council member showed up to a committee on property and infrastructure. Though he did not explain his absence, the member stopped attending the meetings when the mayor stripped him of his chairmanship....Despite his comments that he thought FOIA was an impediment to his work on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, the board voted for William H. Goodwin Jr. to take overas rector in 2015....The Town of West Point is suing King William County for alleged violations of FOIA's meeting provisions. The two local governments are arguing over a decision on setting future tax levies....Local citizens came out to express frustration at the Town of Altavista's decision to fire a popular police chief. Some argued the town council owed residents an explanation, while others assumed the termination came about because the chief released a list of grievances he had with the town to local media outlets.


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