The ability to get information from our government is the keystone of efforts to not only keep the government honest, but to bring to light issues which might otherwise not be talked or written about.
It is, quite simply, the last opportunity short of a court suit between citizens and their government. Information about many different things, different subjects, by almost every public body everywhere. It is the thing that is produced by government entities: files, emails, documents, contracts. This information is available to all of us (in Virginia only if a citizen or journalist, or in the DC media market are able to get this information) to decide for ourselves if we like the way our government runs. Think of it as a citizenship as an owner, a stakeholder in our country.
Sunshine Week is coming up March 17th, 2014, and it is a time to remind everyone that they have the right to ask questions, ask for materials, and generally interact with their government.
If you have a question about the running of your government and are tired of asking questions of representatives that answer with a form letter, FOIA is for you.
If you want to know why the county you live in did certain things and not others, FOIA is for you.
Did your property taxes go up recently? Have you ever looked at the actual budget of a town, city or county? Not the summary they publish in the paper. You will find all sorts of information about where your money goes.
Don’t mistake my comments as being anti-tax, because taxes, well collected and well applied, pay for everything you use. Universities, schools, roads, water systems, traffic lights. Water filtration facilities. Sewage treatment plants.
These all are understandable expenses for government.
Paying an attorney $285,00 a year for a county of 10,000 people is not. Now that county is $50m in debt and can’t afford a Community Development Director. Part of this is due to apathy, and even though I was watching them, there was nothing I could do but file requests. (Cumberland)
Ask your questions. Use your power. Use the resources I have listed below.
And fix it yourself.
Virginia Coalition on Open Government
FOI Council – A division of Legislative Services – Opinions, Cases
Virginia Labor Market Information – Find out about your county’s demographics
Virginia Freedom of Information Act