Rampant ignorance and lawbreaking characterize Virginia FOIA

sunshine week right to knowOver the course of the last ten years, FOIA has been my number one activity and focus of government policy research concerning open government and transparency almost exclusively.

Every jurisdiction I look at has their problems; this is no exaggeration. Some are more severe than others, but still: this is a law in the Commonwealth waiting for the respect other laws get.

Claims of unbelieving administrators that these “mistakes” are just that, fall on my deaf ears. I know better. This law is regularly ignored and worse yet, administrators all over the state try to blame others.

The Judiciary plays along, refusing to fine government administrators based on the faulty logic that they know little about what they are doing.

It makes no difference if the jurisdiction is a town, city, county, appointed board of many many subjects (think VEDM, VDGIF, SBE, Supreme Court of Virginia, etc.) that are part of governing. The idea here is to watch the government so we can ask questions of them.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be shocked to see the waste and useless wheel-spinning done in the name of citizen taxpayers.

Just lately, a small town in southeast Virginia was given a conditional fine by a judge who obviously has read the law here. Not only are fines or punishment of any kind rare, judges use the excuse (supplied by every county or jurisdictional official) that the law is complicated and hard to understand.

The enforcement of this law is an open joke to anyone paying attention to it. Although you would think they would know better, the FOIA Council, a legislative division of the General Assembly, claims that some of the complaints about this law are quite unbelievable or exaggerated.

I have documented proof that I share with anyone who asks. Recently, a reporter asked everyone reading his words to send him examples of abuse of the FOIA law, in whatever form that takes.

While conventional wisdom might say this system works, if you look at it from my vantage point, it is a disgrace. In the name of a lofty goal such as transparency, the government of the Commonwealth fails miserably. This is failure from top to bottom.

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Mark Brooks

Independent Journalist/Photographer --- Retired Land Surveyor originally from Colorado. USN Veteran. Involved as a citizen and journalist in politics and open government locally and sometimes statewide. Interests: photography, music, justice and equality for everyone.

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