FOIA re­quests don’t al­ways come cheap

Gar­rey Curry: We can charge more ‘if some­thing very oner­ous comes along’

Rappahannock News - - Front Page - By John McCaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff

Find­ing more of its time con­sumed by Vir­ginia Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act (FOIA) re­quests, the city of Char­lottesvill­e has been float­ing a pol­icy that would charge pub­lic records re­quests in 15-minute in­cre­ments once an em­ployee has spent 15 min­utes as­sem­bling ma­te­ri­als.

The re­quester would then have to pay the same salary rate of the em­ployee fill­ing their re­quest.

Un­til now there hasn’t been an ex­panded FOIA pay­ment pol­icy in Char­lottesvill­e, where one of­fi­cial this month drew at­ten­tion to an “im­mense” num­ber of FOIA fil­ings in the last two years.

Given its tiny size, Rap­pa­han­nock County doesn’t have near the vol­ume of FOIA re­quests, which in many cases re­quires a govern­ment to pro­duce ev­ery­thing from pa­per records and elec­tronic files to au­dio and video record­ings.

Rap­pa­han­nock’s FOIA pol­icy, which is found on the county govern­ment’s web­site, al­ready warns FOIA re­questers: “Do you want a cost es­ti­mate be­fore we re­ply?”

“Nor­mally we are lib­eral with the amount of staff time com­mit­ted be­fore we charge, but we can if some­thing very oner­ous comes along,” county Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gar­rey W. Curry tells the Rap­pa­han­nock News.

Ac­cord­ing to the county FOIA pol­icy, “All charges for the sup­ply­ing of re

quested records shall be es­ti­mated in ad­vance at the re­quest of the cit­i­zen . . . If we es­ti­mate that it will cost more than $200 to re­spond to your re­quest, we will re­quire you to pay a de­posit, not to ex­ceed the amount of the es­ti­mate, be­fore pro­ceed­ing with your re­quest . . . If you owe us money from a pre­vi­ous FOIA re­quest that has re­mained un­paid for more than 30 days, the county will re­quire pay­ment of the past-due bill be­fore we will re­spond to your new FOIA re­quest.”

The county govern­ment must re­spond within five work­ing days of a sub­mit­ted FOIA re­quest, not in­clud­ing week­ends and hol­i­days. If it’s im­pos­si­ble for a par­tic­u­lar Rap­pa­han­nock of­fice or de­part­ment to re­spond within the five-day pe­riod, it must state the rea­sons in writ­ing, which would then au­to­mat­i­cally al­low the county seven ad­di­tional work­ing days to re­spond.

“If you make a re­quest for a very large num­ber of records, and we feel that we can­not pro­vide the records to you within 12 days with­out dis­rupt­ing our other or­ga­ni­za­tional responsibi­lities, we may pe­ti­tion the court for ad­di­tional time to re­spond to your re­quest,” the county points out.

FOIA Of­fi­cers for Rap­pa­han­nock County of­fices or de­part­ments in­clude Con­nie Comp­ton, Sher­iff; Mary Gra­ham, Com­mis­sioner of the Rev­enue; Art Goff, Com­mon­wealth's At­tor­ney; De­bra Knick, Trea­surer; Mar­garet Ralph, Cir­cuit Court Clerk; Jen­nifer Parker, De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices; Ron Makela, Board of Zon­ing Ap­peals; David Shaffer, Li­brary Board of Trustees; and Gar­rey Curry, County Ad­min­is­tra­tor and FOIA Of­fi­cer for the Board of Su­per­vi­sors and county func­tions not oth­er­wise listed.

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