FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Sent Via E-Mail
Dear Mr. Schrad:
Thank you for your
kinds words and patience. I appreciate the extension of assistance
from your office in any matter regarding the State Corporation
Commission (SCC). A cooperative relationship between this
office and other agencies of state and local government is
a much sought-after goal and will enable this office to provide
the type of service and assistance it was created to perform.
You have asked what
advice I might give a citizen or a news reporter regarding
the SCC and applicability of the Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA). It is the charge of this office to respond to specific
inquiries. At this time I cannot conjecture about how I might
respond to a specific inquiry about the applicability of FOIA.
I am aware, however, of the Atlas and Gannon
cases involving FOIA and the SCC, If you would like to discuss
this matter further, please feel free to call me.
Your final question
asks for my thoughts about what to communicate to SCC employees
about the FOI Advisory Council and the services of the FOIA
office. The Freedom of Information Advisory Council, by statute,
has the authority to:
1. Furnish, upon
request, advisory opinions or guidelines, and other appropriate
information regarding the Freedom of Information Act (§
2.1-340 et seq.) to any person or agency of state or local
government, in an expeditious manner;
2. Conduct training
seminars and educational programs for the members and
staff of public bodies and other interested persons on
the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act;
3. Publish educational
materials as it deems appropriate on the provisions of
the Freedom of Information Act;
4. Request from
any agency of state or local government such assistance,
services and information as will enable the Council to
effectively carry out its responsibilities. Information
provided to the Council by an agency of state or local
government shall not be released to any other party unless
authorized by such agency; and
5. Report annually
on or before December 1 of each year on its activities
and findings regarding the Freedom of Information Act,
including recommendations for changes in the law, to the
Governor and the General Assembly.
The Council does
provide guidance to those seeking information under FOIA,
but does not facilitate the actual receipt of information.
By issuing advisory opinions, the Council hopes to resolve
disputes by clarifying what the law requires and to guide
future practices. As you can see by the 4th statutory power,
the Council has limited authority to "intervene" and has chosen
to consult "both sides" when the issue presented appears controversial.
The Council has no authority to mediate disputes, but may
be called upon as a resource to help fashion creative solutions
in an attempt to remedy a dispute and facilitate compliance
with the law.
As to your request
for tips given to other state agencies regarding access to
publicly available information, it is difficult in this context
to capture the highlights of a training presentation. You
and other employees at the SCC may wish to attend a FOIA Workshop
sponsored by this office. For workshop information, please
visit our website at: http://dls.state.va.us/foiacouncil.htm.
Alternatively, I am available to conduct public access training
for specific groups if you have an interest.
The development of
"tips for compliance" is certainly a goal of this office and
with time to discern patterns, tips for compliance will be
made available in printed materials prepared by this office
and on our website.
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.