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FOIA Friday: 753 messages related to ‘financial irregularities’

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FOIA Friday: 753 messages related to ‘financial irregularities’

Dec 08, 2023 | 12:04 am ET
By Staff Report
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FOIA Friday: 753 messages related to ‘financial irregularities’
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One of the less noticed features of the Virginia Way is the long-running tendency of the commonwealth’s leaders to conduct their decision-making behind closed doors. While the Virginia Freedom of Information Act presumes all government business is by default public and requires officials to justify why exceptions should be made, too many Virginia leaders in practice take the opposite stance, acting as if records are by default private and the public must prove they should be handled otherwise.

In this feature, we aim to highlight the frequency with which officials around Virginia are resisting public access to records on issues large and small — and note instances when the release of information under FOIA gave the public insight into how government bodies are operating. 

Virginia Dept. of Health withholds 753 messages related to ‘financial irregularities’

The Virginia Department of Health chose to withhold 753 messages related to “possible financial irregularities” at the Office of Emergency Medical Services after a Freedom of Information Act request from WTVR

The TV station had sought emails, text messages and other correspondence involving the office’s former director, its current acting director, the department’s chief operating officer and the department’s deputy commissioner for administration. 

The agency has previously said an internal review found the Office of Emergency Medical Services is facing a multimillion-dollar deficit after years of overspending and has been moving funds between accounts to cover shortfalls. 

VDH justified withholding most of the 753 messages under a FOIA provision that exempts from mandatory disclosure “investigative notes, correspondence and information furnished in confidence, and records otherwise exempted by this chapter or any Virginia statute, provided to or produced by or for… internal auditors appointed by the head of a state agency.”

The Mercury’s efforts to track FOIA and other transparency cases in Virginia are indebted to the work of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit alliance dedicated to expanding access to government records, meetings and other state and local proceedings.

Fairfax County publishes annual FOIA report

Fairfax County published its annual report on Freedom of Information Act requests it received. Data showed county agencies and Board of Supervisors offices received 17,349 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2023, up 7% from the prior year. That averaged out to 67 FOIA requests every working day. 

Fairfax said 56% of all records released were given to the public in full. The largest amount of requests were received by the county police department, fire department and Land Development Services Office. Overall, the county collected over $109,000 to fulfill FOIA requests, with the largest fee being $1,262. 

Have you experienced local or state officials denying or delaying your FOIA request? Tell us about it: [email protected]