Rights Of Requesters And Our Responsibilities Under VFOIA
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA), located in the Code of Virginia at §2.2-3700 et seq., guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth (that are not incarcerated) and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
A “public record” is any writing or recording—regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format—that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body (which includes us) or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
The policy of VFOIA states that the purpose of VFOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, VFOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
Rights Of Requestors
The right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
The right to request that any charges or costs for the requested records be estimated in advance.
If a requestor believes that his/her VFOIA rights have been violated, a petition can be filed in district or circuit court to compel compliance with VFOIA. Alternatively, a requestor may contact the VFOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making A Request For Records
Public records may be requested by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. VFOIA does not require that a request be in writing, nor does a requestor need to specifically state that he/she is requesting records under FOIA. Note, however, from a practical perspective, it may be helpful for both a requestor and the person receiving the request to put the request in writing and to state that the request is being made under VFOIA. This alerts our office to the nature of the request and allows us to create a record of the request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records are being requested, so that there is no misunderstanding as might occur with a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to a VFOIA request if a requestor elects to not put it in writing.
A request must identify the records being sought with “reasonable specificity.” This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that are being requested. Instead, it requires that a request be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records being sought.
A request must ask for existing records or documents. VFOIA gives the requestor a right to inspect or copy existing records. It does not apply to a situation where a requestor is asking general questions about the work of our office nor does it require our office to create a record that does not exist.
A requestor may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by our office in the regular course of business. For example, if a requestor requests records maintained in an Excel spreadsheet, a requestor may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
If we have questions about a request, the requestor is asked to cooperate with our staff’s efforts to clarify the type of records that are being sought. We also ask that a requestor make an effort to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a VFOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss a request with the requestor to ensure that we understand what records are being sought.
To request records from our office, please direct your request to our Deputy of Information, Valerie Muth, via email at email@example.com, by phone at 757-926-7443, by fax at 757-926-7482. Additionally, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer questions regarding VFOIA and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 804-225-3056 or [toll free] 1-866-448-4100.