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VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ADVISORY COUNCIL
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA


AO-4-01

January 16, 2001

Ms. Cynthia Munley
Salem, VA

The staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your telephone conversation of December 21, 2000.

Dear Ms. Munley:

You have asked a series of questions concerning documents relating to a recent search for and subsequent hiring of a new city manager. You indicate that the advertisement for the position included a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree in public administration or a related field. The individual eventually chosen for the position had an engineering degree, and as a result you seek information relating to qualifications of the other applicants.

1. Your first question relates to your attempt to discover which candidates met the minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree in public administration, which candidates possessed a master's degree in public administration, and the names, addresses and qualifications of the finalists for the position. The city denied your request for all of these documents under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), citing the personnel records exemption. You ask whether this exemption has been properly invoked, and if the exemption does apply, if you may have access to the documents if any identifiable information is excised from the records.

FOIA states that unless specifically provided by law, all public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth. Section 2.1-342.01 of the Code of Virginia sets forth a series of exemptions from FOIA for specific types of records. Subsection A. 4. exempts [p]ersonnel records containing information concerning identifiable individuals. The Attorney General has determined that applications for a public position fall under this exemption.1 The Attorney General has held that general qualifications of applicants, notes concerning an applicant's qualifications, and the names of those recommended for employment are likewise exempt under the personnel records exemption.2 Therefore, it would appear that all of the documents you have requested concerning identifiable individuals would be exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

Generally, when a public record contains both exempt and nonexempt information, subsection B. 3. of 2.1-342 requires the public body to excise the exempt portion and produce the remainder of the record. However, the language of the personnel record exemption exempts all personnel records containing identifiable information, and not just the identifiable information within a given record. The Attorney General opined that the identity of an individual is an integral part of a personnel record, and the exemption defines a personnel record in part by being a record of an identifiable individual.3 Thus, if there is identifiable information in a personnel record, the entire record is exempt from disclosure and the public body need not excise that information and release the remainder of the record.

2. Your second question relates specifically to documents relating to the education, experience, and qualifications of the individual selected for the city manager position. You specifically have sought the individual's application and resume. Again, the city invoked the personnel records exemption in response to your request. As discussed above, the personnel records exemption applies to any personnel records containing identifiable information. While the Attorney General opinions discussed in response to your first question specifically relate to job applications, the personnel record exemption also applies to records of public employees. The Attorney General has found that other records that fall under the exemption include employee evaluations and professional qualifications.4 All of the information you have requested about the city manager seems to relate to his qualifications, and thus may be properly withheld by the city.

3. Your third question asks whether you are entitled to records identifying the public administration classes that the city manager has taken or is currently taking that are paid for by the city. The city produced a voucher showing the amount paid by the city for the classes, but refused to disclose the particularities of the classes, again citing the personnel record exemption. A public official's educational background appears to be directly related to his professional qualifications, and as discussed in response to your second question, this type of information is properly the subject of the personnel records exemption.

Thank you for contacting this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

Maria J.K. Everett
Executive Director

1 1981-82 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 433.

2 1991 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 9.

3 1981-82 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 433.

4 1985-86 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 333.

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