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Requests for Public Records - Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Your FOIA Rights | Making a Request | Town's Responsibilities in Responding | Costs |
Common Exemptions to FOIA Requests | Freedom of Information Advisory Council

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act located at Virginia Code § 2.2-3700 (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+2.2-3700) et. seq. of the Code of Virginia. FOIA guarantees citizens of the commonwealth 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 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 or other law applies to those records.

The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA 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.

The Federal Freedom of Information Act only applies to federal agencies and not to the town or other state agencies. However, if a request is made that cites that the Federal Freedom of Information Act, the town will consider the request to be made under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and respond accordingly.  

Basic FOIA Rights

  • The right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  • The right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, the right to file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.

Making a Request for Records from the Town of Blacksburg

  • You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, email, in person, or over the phone.
  • FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA.
    • However, from a practical perspective, it is often helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to document your request. It also gives town staff a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, the town cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect not to put it in writing.
  • You must provide your name and legal address.
  • Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This simply means that you must be specific enough so that the town can identify and locate the records you are seeking.
  • Your request must ask for records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the town.
  • You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the town in the regular course of business.
    • For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via email or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records
  • If the town has questions about your request, town staff will attempt to contact you to clarify the type of records you are seeking. Staff may also contact you to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process. Discussing a request with you helps ensure that you get the records you are seeking. FOIA encourages citizens and government officials to work together.

Where to Send A FOIA Request

Ideally, your request should go to the town department or office that maintains the records that you would like to review or receive copies of. If you do not know which department or office your request should be sent to, your request may be sent to the address below:

Town Manager
Town of Blacksburg
300 S. Main St.
Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

The Town's Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request

  • The town must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
  • The reason behind your request for public records is irrelevant, and you are not required to state why you want the records before responding to your request. However, sometimes it may be beneficial to discuss your request to facilitate the town’s response. Also, FOIA does permit the town to ask you to provide your name and legal address.
  • FOIA requires that the town make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
    1. Provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
    2. Withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, the town must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia or other law that allows or requires the withholding of the records.
    3. Provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. The town cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, the town may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. The town must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia or other law that allows or requires portions of the requested records to be withheld.
    4. Inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you want). However, if town staff knows that another public body has the requested records, staff will include contact information for the other public body in the response to you.
    5. If it is practically impossible for the town to respond to your request within the five-day period, the town must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This provision will allow the town seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving the town a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
  • If you make a request for a very large number of records, and town staff reasonably believe that they cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting other organizational responsibilities, the town may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that the town make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before it goes to court to ask for more time.

Costs

  • The town’s policy is not to charge for minor document requests (small number of copies with little to no search time). For larger requests, you will have to pay for the records that you request from the town. FOIA allows the town to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. These costs may include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. The cost for 8 x 11 photocopies is 25 cents per page.
  • If the town estimates that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, the town may require you to pay a deposit before proceeding with your request.
  • You may request that the town estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This estimate will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.

Common Exemptions to FOIA Requests

The Code of Virginia permits, but does not require, any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. The town commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:

  • Requests by persons incarcerated in a state, local or federal correctional facility (§ 2.2-3703(C)).
  • Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2))or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3)).
  • Tests or examinations used, administered or prepared for purposes of evaluation of any employee or employment seeker’s qualifications or aptitude for employment, retention, or promotion, or qualifications for any license or certificate (§ 2.2-3705.1 (4)).
  • Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6)).
  • Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12)).Plans and information to prevent or respond to terrorist activity, the disclosure of which would jeopardize the safety of any person (§ 2.2-3705.2 (4)).
  • Complaints, memoranda, correspondence and evidence relating to a criminal investigation or prosecution, other than criminal incident information (§ 2.2-3706 (F) (1)).

The following frequently requested records are governed by the following statutes:

  • Criminal history records are governed by the restrictions set forth under § 19.2-389.
  • Tax information is governed by § 58.1-3.

Additional Resource for FOIA Questions:

The Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The council may be contacted by email at foiacouncil@dls.virginia.gov, or by phone at 804-225-3056 or toll free at 1-866-448-4100. The FOIA Council also has a website with useful information about FOIA, including advisory opinions written by the council. Visit their site at http://foiacouncil.dls.virginia.gov/.