Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

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FOIA part II

This afternoon in the Holbert Building two county employees held me hostage (just a joke) about my last blog that stated a government cannot charge a flat fee to access public records. The law says you can only charge what it actually costs to get the public document.

Today, I was asked "Well, what if the person lost is plans and they need them right away?"

I replied back, "Does it cost $25 to get the document right away?"


The response was that it could cost that much. Some documents are off site in Stafford and at the Marshall Center. Oftentimes an employee may have to leave to go get the document–and they need to find it.

So, in your opinion, do you think the flat fee charge to view some public records violates the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act based on the county’s questions, and chiefly if the person asking for the record wants it immediately?


Post tags:


  • lgross

    with FOIA requests is treading close to the line on
    the intent and certainly the spirit of the law.

    I’m taken aback by what I perceive to be
    arrogance on the part of the county employees.

    Citizens are ENTITLED to county information
    unless specifically exempted by the FOIA law.

    Charging for document access – and defending
    the practice.. asserting the authority to do so
    “under some conditions” is less than wonderful
    behavior in my view.

    It’s pretty clear if we did not actually have an
    FOIA law that many documents would not be
    available – money or not…

    I think this whole area stinks and needs some
    more visibility and attention.

  • gramps


    County employees ought to have better things to do than “collaring” a member of the press.

  • tpkeller

    What part of “not to exceed its actual cost” can these folks not understand?

    When we talk about law, we often use “spirit of” and “letter of”. It’s always been my understanding that “letter” is the actual law as written, while “spirit” is more about what the law “intends” to accomplish.

    In this case, I believe both the spirit AND the letter are plainly clear! I view the FOIA much like the bill of rights. I don’t believe either one GRANTS the citizens rights, but rather guarantees that they won’t be infringed, and in the case of FOIA, how that right to access is to be implemented. Government of, by and for the people lives and breathes in openness. If that openness is quenched, so is our form of government.

    It’s appalling that the Spotsylvania officials seem so determined to defend an illegal model for recovering their costs to provide these records. As a citizen, I certainly agree that the costs should be covered by the requestor, I don’t want my tax dollars to support some nut-case who might be on some personal vendetta or fishing expedition.

    It doesn’t seem like it should be too hard to establish a set of costs that would cover all the reasonable situations for providing records, even if they need them right away. Publish a chart… if it requires a clerk to travel off-site, figure out what that costs, and be happy to provide the service at that cost.

    It is plainly clear that flat-rate fees will never be a legal possibility, unless the law is changed.

  • gramps

    Why is Spotsy “storing” records in Stafford County?

  • lgross

    Many, most govt employees have to sign an
    ethics agreement as a condition of employment.

    Why not have a law that requires govt employees
    to take a mandatory FOIA primer (they can do
    this online at their leisure) and then to sign an
    agreement that says that they have taken the
    primer – and will not violate the law as
    represented in the primer?

    This would include the BOS and all appointed
    positions also.

    I think we need some personal accountability for
    county employees on the FOIA issue – as well as
    the elected officials.

    so we’d not have some of this stuff going on
    where the folks doing it claim that they are not
    breaking the law – and individuals trying to get
    FOIA have the actual name (or names) of
    employees to report.

    We need to have some teeth in the enforcement
    of the law and to make the foolishness that is
    going on – harder to do.

  • lgross

    DITTO – and WHY are they PAPER instead of
    PAPER + electronic.

    it’s legitimate to store archived (and ever
    operational) data in a remote place as a
    safeguard against it’s loss in a disaster but
    usually the data is copied and kept available for
    5-10 years.

    But to cite this as a reason why ANY data COULD
    POTENTIALLY require a physical trip to Stafford
    for the records borders on subterfuge … just
    another tactic to evade the intent of the FOIA law
    to start with IMHO – and why I support a law that
    requires every county employee and elected,
    appointed officials to have to take a mandatory
    FOIA course and to sign that they have taken the
    course and understand it’s provisions and will act
    according to the law.

    I am sure the Virginia Coalition on Open
    Government would be more than willing to put
    together this primer.

  • dantelvock

    I just want to make it clear that the “hostage” part was just a joke. I think some of you thought it was serious. It was a very friendly discussion.

  • lgross

    thanks Dan. You’re right.. probably some of us
    misunderstood …. but geeze guy.. it wasn’t that
    long ago that you were ruled “out of order” for
    objecting to a closed session – right?

    heh heh

  • dantelvock

    Yes, it was not that long ago.