The Virginia Press Association recently distributed its reporters’ guide to the Freedom of Information Act to newspapers throughout the state. Our reporters and editors have been asked to read all 104 pages of it, and if you are a Virginia citizen, a local government employee or an elected or appointed official, we encourage you to get to know this law – it’s available online.
Understanding this law may help local governments avoid a loss of public trust, as well as a lawsuit, a fine or legal fees.
On Tuesday, the Mount Jackson Town Council called a special meeting to reaffirm Planning Commission appointments that its members had made at their organizational meeting in July. This was done because the public had not been given sufficient notice, according to Virginia code, about a time change for that July meeting. A half-hour difference in time – the meeting was changed to 9 a.m. from the advertised 9:30 a.m. – effectively kept our reporter and any member of the public who showed up at 9:30 a.m., when the meeting adjourned, from viewing council’s actions.
On the inside cover of our FOIA guide is this quote from Judge Damon Keith of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals:
“Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully and accurately.”