Virginia Freedom of Information Act
Rights & Responsibilities:
The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of Fauquier County
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media with distribution in Virginia 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.
The policy of FOIA 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 any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
Rights of Requesters:
- Citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and representatives of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- Citizens and media have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
- Citizens and media that believe that their FOIA rights have been violated, may file a petition in the Fauquier County General District or Circuit Court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, they may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making a Request for Records from Fauquier County:
- Records may be requested by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that the request be in writing, nor does it need to specifically state that it is a request for records under FOIA.
- From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both the requester and the person receiving the request to put it in writing. This allows a record of the request to be created. It also gives us a clear statement of what records are requested, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. Fauquier County has a form available for use, if desired, to make a FOIA request. However, we will not refuse to respond to a FOIA request if it is not put in writing.
- The request must identify the records sought with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that are requested; instead, it requires that enough specificity so that we can identify and locate the records sought.
- The request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA creates a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where general questions about the work of Fauquier County are asked, nor does it require Fauquier County to create a record that does not exist.
- The requester may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by Fauquier County in the regular course of business.
- For example, if the requested records are maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail, jump/thumb drive, potentially on a computer disk (CD) if the responding employee has access to a CD burner, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- If we have questions about the request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records 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 we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records from Fauquier County, you may direct your request to the appropriate FOIA Officer. A list of Fauquier County FOIA Officers including commonly requested records by Constitutional Office and department is provided. You may also contact the FOIA Officer with questions you have concerning requesting records from Fauquier County. In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (804) 225-3056 or (866) 448-4100.
Fauquier County’s Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request:
- Fauquier County 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 from Fauquier County is irrelevant and you do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. However, although not required, providing the reason for your request is sometimes helpful in allowing the County employee narrow your search to desired records. FOIA allows Fauquier County to require you to provide your full name and legal residential address.
- FOIA requires that Fauquier County make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
- We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- We 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, we 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 that allows us to withhold the records.
- We provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- We 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 we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
- If it is practically impossible for Fauquier County to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
- 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 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
- A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, searching for, or reviewing the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.
- Duplicating costs are calculated as follows:
- A charge of $0.10 (ten cents) per printed side of a page for black and white 8 ½ x 11 or 8 ½ x 14 paper copies (in other words: $0.20 per sheet of paper if printed on both sides) and $0.50 (fifty cents) per printed side of a page for color copies ($1.00 per page if printed on both sides); or
Duplication fees Table amounts are per page
8 1/2 x 11
8 1/2 x 14
11 x 17
Single sided, black & white
$ .10 $ .23 Double sided, black & white
$ 0.20 $ 0.46 Single sided, color
$ 0.50 $ 0.50 $1.23 Double sided, color
$ 1.00 $ 1.00 $2.46
- $0.50 (fifty cents) per CD-ROM. If any other media or non-standard paper size is used, the requestor shall not be charged more than the County’s actual cost.
- If, due to the size or format, the responding department does not have the ability to duplicate the public records requested and the requesting party cannot review the records in the County offices, an outside vendor may be used to make copies only if the requesting party agrees to the arrangement and pays the full cost to the vendor directly.
- You may have to pay for the records that you request from Fauquier County. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
- If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, you will be required to pay a deposit in the full amount of the estimate before staff proceeds with producing records responsive to your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
- You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This 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.
- If you owe us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, Fauquier County may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.
Types of Records:
A general description of the types of records held by department of Fauquier County can be found with the list of FOIA Officers. If you are unsure whether Fauquier County has the record(s) you seek, please contact the appropriate FOIA Officer from the department you think most likely has the record. If that department does not have the requested record but they know which department is custodian of the record you seek, they will advise you of the appropriate FOIA Officer to contact.
Commonly Used Exemptions:
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. Although not an exhaustive list, Fauquier County commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Criminal investigative files: Code of Virginia § 2.2-3706.A(2)
- Personnel records: § 2.2-3705.1(1)
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege or attorney work product: §§ 2.2-3705.1(2), 2.2-3705.1(3), & 2.2-3705.1(5)
- 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)
- Proprietary and other information provided under promise of confidentiality by private business considering expanding or locating within the Commonwealth: § 2.2-3705.6(3)