Sunshine Report Newsletter, July 2014

The Sunshine Report: Online Transparency news from the Virginia Coalition
for Open Government   July 2014

In this issue

Records workshop a solid success

FOIA Council updates

Open government in the news

Governments pushing transparency

Coalition News

Coming up

  • July 8: FOIA Council subcommittees on Records (10:00) and Meetings (1:30). Both meetings are in the 6th Floor Speaker's Conference Room at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.
  • July 21: Brownbag lunch discussion with Amy Edwards, staff to Sen. Mark Warner, on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. This is a free event at the Library of Virginia but it requires an RSVP due to space limitations. To attend, message us at

On the road...and around the state

On June 23, VCOG's Megan Rhyne spoke to the College Leader's Program of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. Students discussed the importance of ready access to records at their own universities to be better informed about decisions that could affect them or their parents. Rhyne will speak in July to Sorensen's High School Leaders Program.

VCOG was recognized for advancing the mission of theLibrary of Virginia at the library's annual appreciation luncheon June 16. The contributions of the Division of Legislative Services, the clerks of both houses, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Muncipal League were also noted.

To arrange a FOIA training session or speaking engagement with Rhyne, contact VCOG

Coalition News
VCOG is happy to have Eric Loose, a rising second year law student at William & Mary, as an intern this summer. Eric, a Pennsylvania native, will be researching the exemptions subject to review by the FOIA Council's study, as well as providing insights on the uses of the attorney-client records exemption in state and federal FOIA.

Sen. Mark Warner will be sitting down with VCOG's board of directors on June 2 to discuss open government and transparency issues, particularly the senator's co-sponsorship of the Digital Transparency and Accountability Act, which will put more detailed federal spending data online.

FOIA Council updates

The FOIA Council issued an opinion last month examining the intersection between statutory requirements under FOIA and the act’s many mentions of negotiations between government and requesters. In particular, the council noted the potential conflict when advance estimates of the cost of production are requested. The uncertainty surrounding the interplay of these sections, the council said, “further emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue of response timing from the outset of negotiations, and the necessity of clear and frank communications between the parties, especially in regard to the two items most often subject to negotiation: charges and time.”

Read the opinion, AO-05-14, on our website.


In an email to a citizen, copied to VCOG by council staff, the council also commented on the Department of Environmental Quality's FOIA policy, which allows the agency to refuse to make copies of records, even when the agency has the capability to do so. The policy "impedes practical access to public records because of distance, rather than pursuant to an exemption," Alan Gernhardt wrote. Further, DEQ's practice renders "meaningless" FOIA's fee provisions "if a public body can simply refuse to duplicate and supply records as a matter of policy."

Read DEQ's policy here.

Greetings, Friend of VCOG!

Records workshop a solid success

More than 100 government employees turned out June 4 to take part in VCOG's records-management and FOIA workshop at the University of Mary Washington. Attendees braved HVAC issues to hear presentations by Craig Fifer of the City of Alexandria, Glenn Smith from the Library of Virginia, and Maria Everett, head of the FOIA Council. Post-workshop survey results gave the workshop near-universal praise and suggested such training would be beneficial at least once a year, sometimes more often.

Governments pushing transparency

It's always good when local governments or state agencies are solid on access to public records and meetings, following not just the letter of FOIA, but also the spirit. It's even better when government actively promotes transparency. Such was the case this month in two notable instances. In one, some local governments are pressing oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they plan to use when drilling for natural gas, and they want them to do so before the fracking process starts, not after. King George County's attorney, Eric Gregory, a former member of the FOIA Council, informed Shore Exploration and Production Corp. that emergency personnel wanted to know what's on site. At the federal level, likely in response to the oil tanker spill in Lynchburg, railroads are being asked to reveal oil shipping volumes and routes.

In the other instance of a proactive approach to public information, the state launched two websites: is a research database and statewide dementia network to assist families struggling with Alzheimer's disease. is the Department of Transportation's portal for updates on the state's road projects. The need for such a resource was highlighted this month when emails disclosed under FOIA showed millions of dollars have been poured into a project to widen Route 460through southside Virginia without any ground having been broken.

Open government in the news

A Norfolk circuit court judge refused to throw out a FOIA case brought by the ACLU and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals against the City of Norfolk. PETA claims that in response to a records request, the city admitted it did not save text messages, which they say violates the FOIA provision requiring, records custodians to "take all necessary precautions for [the records'] preservation and safekeeping.”....It wasn’t pretty, but Shenandoah County will now have streaming and archived video of its meetings, thanks to a donation by local businessman William Holtzman, father to Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel. The move was strongly opposed by supervisor Cindy Bailey, who first demanded to know Holtzman’s identity after fellow supervisor Conrad Helsley announced he had an anonymous donor who would foot the bill, and then complained of the ongoing cost to the county to maintain the system....The Daily Press conducted a Peninsula-wide survey of local governments to determine how often and for what reasons public bodies there went into closed session. The survey noted that some agencies had situation-specific reasons for needing to do so frequently or for long periods of time, but others held closed meetings on topics other localities stayed in open session for....Though its work sessions were closed to the public, records obtained by FOIA from a Virginia Beach staff-driven review of a proposal to bring a professional sports arena to the cityshowed the city would be on the hook for millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements....Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall said he made the decision to compensate former finance official Sharon Judkins nearly $400,000 based on bad advice from the city’s human resource department. Nonetheless, the city would not release any records related to Judkins’ departure or the compensation package and, in doing so, misstated FOIA’s procedural requirements for responding to FOIA requests, even when records are denied. “The response was not late as the records are protected personnel information," Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ press secretary Tammy D. Hawley said. “I do not have to request an extension of protected records.” (Note: A notice of an extended deadline is required regardless of whether records will be released or withheld.)....The Richmond Police Department announced it will begin charging for every FOIA records request, no matter how small. The department previously did not charge for routine records requests, such as those seeking mug shots....Attorney General Mark Herring named Richmond-area attorney Shawri King-Casey as the office’s first compliance and transparency counsel. King-Casey will head up the office’s compliance and responsibilities under FOIA and the Public Records Act....Members of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors have been arguing over whether it was proper for the body to go into closed session to discuss strategy in appointing or reappointing members of the Amherst County School Board. One member claimed the meeting strayed from discussion of individuals into strategy, and she sought guidance from the FOIA Council. The board later discussed revising its internal policies for disciplining a member who discusses publicly what was said in a closed session.


Woodrum Legislative Internship
Join us in celebrating the legacy of Chip Woodrum by being a part of our effort to endow a student internship for each General Assembly session, where the recipient would learn about and participate in the legislative process. To date we have raised over $28,000. Won't you make a contribution today to keep Chip's memory and legacy alive?

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