Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act
The information on this page is governed by Va. Code § 2.2-3704.1
What is FOIA?
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), found at § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media 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.
FOIA states that its purpose 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.
FOIA Contact Information
The FOIA Officer for the Town of Hamilton is Lori M. Jones, CPA. She is the point of contact for all FOIA requests and inquiries. She will assist you in making a request for records, and will respond to your requests for records. Mrs. Jones can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 540-338-2811, by fax at 540-338-9263, by US Mail at PO Box 130, Hamilton, VA 20159, or in person at the Hamilton Town Office, 53 E Colonial Hwy, Hamilton, VA 20158.
In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is a state agency that is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The FOIA Council may be contacted by email at email@example.com, or by telephone at 804-225-3056 or 866-448-4100.
Your FOIA Rights
1. You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
2. You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
3. 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.
Requesting Public Records
1. Methods of Request. You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA. However, FOIA allows the Town to require that you provide your name and legal address. Please note that the Town creates a written record of all FOIA requests and that the Town’s record is, itself, a “public record” subject to FOIA.
A Request for Records form is available for the requester’s convenience. The request form can be found by clicking on the following link:
2. Record Must be Identified with “Reasonable Specificity.” Your request must identify the public records you are seeking with “reasonable specificity.” This is a common-sense standard. It does not limit the number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
3. FOIA Applies only to Existing Records. FOIA requires the Town to produce existing records or documents, but does not require the Town to create such records or documents in order to answer a citizen’s general questions about the work of the Town. Likewise, FOIA does not apply to documents that may be created in the future. The document must exist at the time you make the request in order for the Town to provide it to you.
4. The Town Will Cooperate With and Assist You. If we have questions about your request, we will work with you to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a request is not an adversarial process.
Format of the Requested Records
You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the Town of Hamilton in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
Town of Hamilton’s Responsibilities
The Town 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, holidays, or other days the Town office may be closed.
The reason behind your request for public records from the Town is irrelevant, and you do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow the Town to obtain your name and legal address.
As to each public record requested, FOIA requires that the Town make one of the following responses within the five-day time period:
1. Respond by providing the requested record
2. Respond that the Town is withholding the requested record, citing the exemptions that apply to, and the volume and subject matter of, the withheld records
3. Respond that the Town is providing portions of & withholding portions of the requested record, citing the exemptions that apply to, and the volume and subject matter of, the withheld records
4. Respond that the Town does not have the requested record, or it does not exist
5. Respond that the Town will take seven additional work days to respond and provide the reason why
6. Respond that the Town will need a deposit to process the request
7. Respond that the Town will need a payment of a past-due FOIA charge to process the 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 time to produce the requested records, before we ask the court for more time.
Charges for Requests
Payment of Actual Costs
You may have to pay for the records that you request from the Town. A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for 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.
If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we will likely require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with 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 — that is, the five-day deadline is extended by the length of time between our request for a deposit and your response.
Request a Quote
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 at least 30 days, the Town will require payment of the past due amount before responding to any new FOIA requests from you.
Common FOIA Exemptions
FOIA allows the Town to withhold certain public records from disclosure to the public. The following FOIA exemptions are commonly cited by the Town in responding to a FOIA request:
1. Personnel records (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1 (1))
2. Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1(2)), or records that constitute attorney work product (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(3))
3. Records prepared for or compiled exclusively for use in a lawfully held closed meeting (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(5))
4. Appraisals of real property prior to its purchase, sale, or lease (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(8))
5. Personal information provided to the Town for the purpose of receiving email from the Town (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(10))
6. Information obtained by the Director of Finance in the performance of her duties with respect to the transactions, property, including personal property, income or business of any person, firm or corporation (Va. Code § 58.1-3)
7. Juvenile police records (Va. Code § 16.1-301)
8. Police record that contains personal, medical, or financial information, the release of which would jeopardize the person’s privacy or safety (Va. Code § 2.2-3706)
9. A criminal investigative file (Va. Code § 2.2-3706)
10. A criminal incident report for a misdemeanor (Va. Code § 2.2-3706)
11. Vendor proprietary information (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1 (6))
12. Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1 (12))