The outrageous judiciary “opinion” about FOIA

sunshine week right to knowA judge has ruled that he feels that the complaint about the Pittsylvania Agriculture Board being in violation of Virginia FOIA was politically motivated more than an actual complaint.

“It is apparent this case is … more about politics than it is about legality,” Reynolds said. However, he did find the board violated FOIA by not giving proper notice of going into and coming out of closed session during its meeting April 8.
<blockquote>FOIA is being used as a “club” by individuals not happy with the board’s performance, Reynolds said.

What gave this judge that idea seems to be unknown, since the law itself does not anticipate such a ridiculous defense of the illegal actions of the board.

You might remember that citizens were effectively kicked out of a meeting back in April of this year, after the board claimed it was going into executive session. There was a raging thunderstorm at the time, and after waiting some amount of time, the citizens left without knowing what the outcome of the session was.

This is simply more excuse-making behavior of the judiciary and the executive branch to make excuses for the administrators of our public boards and commissions that are required by law to follow FOIA laws.

We have had many examples of this behavior and other behaviors recently, from the Martese Johnson case, to the recent Virginia Supreme Court ruling that effectively removed what was understood as the duty of the government to redact portions of records they deem to be under one of the exemptions provided for by law.

The Governor himself has given lip service all along about transparency, and it is striking how this flies in the face of his own administration surrounding these issues. From criminal investigations to materials in those investigations, even families of victims have been forced to sue their own government to obtain what otherwise should be an easy request.

It’s pretty simple really. Quit inserting your own opinions of the law and people’s actions surrounding it by legal means, or give up your job, because you are certainly not fulfilling your job description and promises you made when becoming a public servant.

After all, you promised us that you would abide by all the laws, not just the ones you like or agree with. That’s the real message here.



What does Charlottesville candidate Michael Signer have to say about transparency in government?

We may not know, because Signer’s Twitter feed is “private”, just like the information was about Martese Johnson and the ABC officers who bloodied him.

The report clearing the ABC officers was not released and the “prohibition” of release has become an embarrassment. Information is not “prohibited” from being released, it is in the control of the custodian of records.

It was finally released when the Governor claimed all “releases” had been granted. Personnel policy is once again being used to hide illegal actions.

Over to you, Mike.

signer twitter

Transparency is great, said the politicians trying to limit transparency

Recent decisions have shown citizens that transparency is a myth propagated by politicians in order to placate the masses.

The news that the Supreme Court of Virginia made the decision to not provide records relating to the Virginia death penalty is the latest death knell for a law that was intended to make government more accessible, more “open.”

You don’t need to look far to see violations of the idea and the law of the Freedom of Information Act. Every week, sometimes every day, a report or other information is denied for release, often with an explanation that defies the law itself.

If the law in the Commonwealth can’t be followed regarding this, isn’t that the same as the justification for wanting the freedom of the information in the first place? If our government does not follow the very law written for these purposes, shouldn’t we wonder what other laws they have decided not to follow?

Department of General Services ignores FOIA request

You can request records by all these methods below, but to request records, write to their FOIA person. Also, FOIA does not apply to “general questions” asked of the agency, but you need not mention FOIA for it to be a FOIA request.

Got all that?

Requesting records from the Department of General Services:

Records may be requested by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require requests be in writing. The requester does not have to specifically refer to FOIA in order to request documents.

From a practical perspective, the Department of General Services may ask the request be put in writing to ensure there is a clear statement of the type of records being requested and to reduce the potential for misunderstanding the request.

The request must identify the records the citizen is seeking with “reasonable specificity.” This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records. The request must be specific enough for the records to be identified and located.

Requests must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA allows existing records to be inspected or copied. If a record does not exist, under FOIA, the Department of General Services is not required to create a ‘new’ record. FOIA does not apply when asking general questions about the work of the Department of General Services.

The requester may choose to receive electronic records in any format used in regular course of business by the Department of General Services. For example, a request for records maintained in an Excel database, the requester may elect to receive those records electronically, such as via e-mail or diskette, or receive a printed copy.

General Services may need to clarify the information being requested. Please include appropriate contact information in case the request for information needs clarification is extensive in the amount of documents being requested, and/or to coordinate delivery of the documents.

To request records from the Department of General Services, direct requests to:

Mailing Address:
Attn: FOIA Request
Julie Whitlock, Policy and Legislative Analyst
Department of General Services
1100 Bank Street, Suite 420
Richmond, Virginia 23219

E-mail Address:
In the e-mail subject line please put at least the following: FOIA Request

Phone: 804-786-3311
Fax: 804-371-8305

(emphasis mine)

Does the Governor have time to address this, or the Attorney General?

Chesterfield Supervisor chair: If FOIA information is bad, it will affect commerce

In the Richmond Times Dispatch last week: (concerning how many Confederate license plates are in Chesterfield.)

Chesterfield is aggressively competing with other states, localities and countries to recruit jobs. Let’s assume that decision-makers were in town on this particular day and decided to pick up the local newspaper to catch up on local news. What would they think? Might they simply put down the newspaper and head for the airport? And that same scenario applies to families looking to move to the area.

Words matter. We love Chesterfield. We love you, too, sometimes.

Steve Elswick,
Chairman, Chesterfield Board of Supervisors.

Here’s what I have to say about this:

If you aren’t doing anything wrong, there shouldn’t be any problem.

New UVA rector urges breaking the law about open government – avoid email to ‘stay off the front page’, Augusta County Administrator had said the same thing

New UVA Rector Bill Goodwin was only the latest Virginia public official to instruct people to not use email, unless you want to “…be on the front page.”

This is only several days after it had been revealed that a sheriff in Virginia illegally covered up missing money that was in his office’s possession but was missing. The accrediting organization that examines law enforcement operations called the Augusta County Sheriff and asked him to report to a meeting to talk.

Press accounts claim another county official also made remarks about official emails.

The News Leader reports some of the shocking details:

But although Fisher and investigators apparently still don’t know where the cash went — the money had been seized from a 2012 drug arrest and held in the evidence room safe — the sheriff did know it was gone.

He had known for weeks.

Let that sink in for a moment. The rest of us are dealt harshly with or otherwise harassed by law enforcement when we are suspected of lying or otherwise breaking the law, but the sheriff should be okay, according to someone, I would guess.

In the words of the accreditation organization after the audit (without the knowledge of missing cash) said: (and I am not kidding)

“This agency clearly characterizes the embodiment of integrity and commitment to professionalism, from the newest deputy to those in the highest administrative ranks to include Sheriff Fisher…” (as reported in the article)

The evidence room also was found to be in compliance. “The security for the evidence room is excellent,” the report said.

Courtesy of a wonderful article from Brad Zinn of the News Leader, this gem from the public official responsible for meeting FOIA requests with responses that resemble the requirements of the law, Augusta County Administrator Pat Coffield:

Pat Coffield, Augusta County administrator, said he believes the lack of documentation about public business was by design, intended to foil media scrutiny protected by state open access laws.

“(The Sheriff’s Office) learned a long time ago never to put anything in an email you don’t want to see FOIAed,” Coffield wrote in an email to The News Leader. “We have all learned from your past FOIAs.”

What’s the Republican saying for an onerous restriction in law enforcement they dreamed up? “If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” (Think drug testing) If you are purposely not documenting conversations you have with other public officials, that subverts not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as well.

Cumberland County Sheriff Department – Costs are not allowed to be questioned by the public (FOIA)

This is yet another example of FOIA ignorance and a willful effort to not know anything or abide by the laws.

If they can arrest someone for crimes, which is their job – then they can abide by state law regarding the dissemination of information under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. (That’s also their job, to abide by Virginia Code)