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The Act begins with the general principles that all meetings of public bodies should be open to the public and that all public records should be open to citizen inspection. However, the Act creates a number of specific exemptions from these general rules of openness, but requires those exemptions to be construed and applied narrowly.
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The act is the primary state law governing citizen access to records of public entities and to their meeting.
All requests must include the name and address of the requestor and the request must be reasonably specific. A telephone number and/or email address is not required, but is useful. The day after the FOIA Officer or County employee receives the request is considered the first day of the five working day response period. The five day period does not include weekends or holidays. A request for records can be sent through the website via the online form, through the mail, or by email to the FOIA Officer.
Anyone can make a FOIA request; however, the law applies to requests made by any Virginia citizen and any non-resident representative of a newspaper, radio station, or television station that is circulated in or broadcasts in Virginia.
There is no cost required to submit a FOIA request. However, FOIA allows local governments to make a reasonable charge to cover its actual cost to access, search for, duplicate, and supply requested records. It is the goal of the County to keep the cost as low as possible. The requestor may ask for an advance estimate of the charges for complying with the request. If charges are expected to exceed $200, the County may require the requestor to pay the estimated charges in advance, before the request is processed. Any unpaid balances past due for more than 30 days after billing must be paid before the County will fulfill any future requests.
The Act only requires disclosure of existing records. It does not require any public body to create a new record or report that does not already exist. A request for records does not include a situation where a citizen is asking questions for the County to answer. Only a request for particular documents or other specific existing records triggers the requirements of a response under the Act.
The County must initially respond within five work days after the custodian of the records receives the request. If the request is large or complex and it is not possible to produce the records within the five working days, the County can invoke a seven-day extension (working days). The day after the FOIA Officer or County employee receives the request is considered the first day of the five-working-day response period. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
Requestors should provide as much specific information about the records as possible. If a request is not specific the Custodian or FOIA Officer may need to contact the requestor the further clarify the information requested. The requestor's contact information and preferred method of receiving the records is also needed.
The Act lists over 120 categories of public records that public bodies are not required to disclose. The County commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions: 1) personnel records (Code of VA 2.2-3705.1); 2) written advice of legal counsel to eh public body or the officers or employees of the public body and any other information protected by the attorney-client privilege (Code of VA 2.2-3705.2); 3) legal memoranda and other work product compiled specifically for use in litigation concerning a matter that is properly the subject of a closed meeting (Code of VA 2.2-3705.3); 4) records recorded in or compiled exclusively for use in closed meetings lawfully held pursuant to the Code of VA (Code of VA 2.2-3705.5); 5) vendor proprietary information software (Code of VA 2.2-3705.6); 6) information relating to the negotiation and award of a specific contract where competition or bargaining is involved (Code of VA 2.2-3705.12). All other exemptions provided for under the Act may be exercised by the County if deemed lawful and appropriate.
FOIA does not require that requests be in writing, nor does the request need to specifically state that the requestor is requesting records under FOIA. The County provides an online form, which is helpful in fulfilling the request. A request can also be sent to the FOIA Officer by email. The completed form or email must include the date, the name and address of the requestor and specific information about the public record that is being requested. A telephone number and email address are very useful to expedite questions and clarifications while satisfying a FOIA request, yet, they are not required.
Requestors may submit a FOIA request the following ways: 1) the online form; 2) by email to the FOIA Officer; 3) by mailing or hand delivering a letter to the FOIA Officer at the County Government Center, 103 South Court Street, Suite F, Luray, VA 22835; 4) by calling 540-743-4142; or 5) by fax to the FOIA Officer at 540-743-4533.