Public Records Request
The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of the New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located at § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and representatives of the media that broadcast or have circulation in the Commonwealth 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 applies.
Virginia Code § 2.2-3700 states that 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.
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- You have 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, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making a Request for Records from New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority
- You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that the requestor state why he or she wants the records, or that the request be in writing, nor does the requestor need to specifically state that they are requesting records under FOIA.
- From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both the requestor and the person receiving the request for the requestor to put the request in writing. This allows you to create a record of the request. It also provides a clear statement of what records are being requested, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, the agency cannot refuse to respond to a FOIA request if the requestor elects to not put it in writing.
- The request must identify the records being sought with “reasonable specificity.” It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records being requested. It requires that the requestor be specific enough so the agency can identify and locate the records being sought.
- The request must be for existing records or documents. FOIA gives citizens a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where the requestor is asking general questions about the work of the Authority, nor does it require the Authority to create a record that does not exist.
- The requestor may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the Authority in the regular course of business.
- For example, if a citizen is requesting records maintained in an Excel spreadsheet, the requestor may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- If the Authority has questions about the request, the requestor should cooperate with staff’s efforts to clarify the type of records being sought, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but the Authority may need to discuss the request with the requestor to ensure that it is understood what records are being sought.
To request records from New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority, you may direct your requests to the Authority’s FOIA Officer, Deborah Stump, at 540-391-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, the FOIA Advisory Council is available to answer any questions citizens may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by phone at 804-225-3056 or [toll free] 1-866-448-4100, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
New River Valley Emergency Communications Regional Authority Responsibilities in Responding to a Request
- The Authority must respond to requests within five working days of receiving a request. “Day One” is considered the day after the request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
- FOIA allows the Authority to require requestors to provide their name and legal address.
- FOIA requires that the Authority make one of the following responses to a request within the five-day time period:
- The Authority provides the requestor with the records that they have requested in their entirety.
- The Authority withholds all of the records that have been requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, the Authority must send the requestor 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 that allows the Authority to withhold the records.
- The Authority provides some of the records that have been requested, but withholds other records. The Authority cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, the Authority may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide the requestor with the remainder of the record. The Authority must provide the requestor with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- The Authority informs the requestor in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (the Authority does not have the records the requestor wants). However, if the Authority knows that another public body has the requested records, the Authority must include contact information for the other public body in its response to the requestor.
- If it is practically impossible for the Authority to respond to the request within the five-day period, the Authority must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow the Authority seven additional working days to respond to the request, giving the Authority a total of 12 working days to respond to the request.