By Sally Voth firstname.lastname@example.org
Shenandoah County Administrator Doug Walker has been asked to provide the Board of Supervisors with the number of requests he's had this summer for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
He was also directed to provide the board at its Aug. 28 meeting the length of time it has taken county staff to comply with the requests and from where the requests originated.
Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley made the request at the panel's meeting Tuesday morning, saying the county had gotten "a tremendous amount" of FOIA requests this summer.
"All the FOIA requests have been public meetings and discussions and information that's very public," District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli said during the meeting. "I don't know if there's any way to compare the amount of time of these meetings and discussions and decisions in regards to the FOIA requests. Just a tremendous amount of time being wasted on issues that have transpired many years ago and have been very public and they are on our site."
The supervisors have come under scrutiny this year from residents vehemently opposed to the RSW Regional Jail project.
The RSW Regional Jail Authority in June directed its attorney to explore whether legal action could be taken against some of those opponents, which it blames for causing a delay in a bonds sale that resulted in a higher interest rate on financing.
The Northern Virginia Daily has made one FOIA request to the county this summer. Another request was made in the spring and involved correspondence surrounding the regional jail project.
The Daily's requests included email correspondence that is not on the county's website.
While it may be appropriate to recoup the staffing costs of complying with the requests for information, such requests shouldn't be hindered, District 3 Supervisor David Ferguson said.
"To me, the FOIA request is a service provided to the citizens no different than any other service we provide," he said. "If they request it, it's our job to provide it. I don't think by any stretch of the imagination or any action we take should limit or discourage anyone who wants information. It may be time-consuming, it may be a lot of them right now."
Baroncelli responded to Ferguson's comments.
"The comparison there is the FOIA request versus the clarity and the public discussions have been out there," she said. "All these FOIA requests are not things we're doing in closed session or behind the scenes. What is being asked for has been discussed in public. Ad nauseum."
In an interview after the discussion and while the supervisors were in a closed session, Walker said he didn't know the exact number of FOIA requests that had come in.
"There certainly was a period when we were working through the regional jail financing issue [where] there were a lot of requests for information," he said.
Information requests that take more than a half-hour for a staff member to assemble are billed for the time at that employee's hourly rate, Walker said. He said whenever possible, an employee with the lowest salary who is capable of handling the request will do so.
While most requests are processed electronically, the person making the request would be charged 50 cents per DVD if the information is burned to disc, and 2 cents for black-and-white paper copies and 6 cents for color ones.