At least one provision of a newly passed Town of Herndon ordinance addressing Freedom of Information Act requests may be in violation of the Act.
The controversial ordinance will charge fees based upon the hourly rates of town staff fulfilling formal FOIA requests. The Herndon Town Council voted 6-1 to approve the ordinance last Tuesday, June 26, and it is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1.
Herndon Town Attorney Richard Kaufman has stated that the formal ordinance was "a staff-initiated effort" brought about because of "a recent increase in the intensity and number of requests for information."
"I would argue that is done for two reasons. First to discourage frivolous FOIA requests and second, to force newspaper reporters to do their own research and not expect government employees to do research at taxpayer expense," Husch said.
Whose hourly rate will be charged in Herndon has yet to be determined. The fees will be published prior to the Aug. 1 implementation of the ordinance, according to Kaufman...
"They can't do that," said Frosty Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, after reviewing that particular provision, citing a recent opinion by Maria Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.
Well said, Frosty. This is an UGLY policy, one that if repeated would eviscerate FOI as we know it, particularly for citizens.
Under the new ordinance the vast majority of information requests will be handled immediately by staff with no fee. Only those requests for information that requires significant research time (over ~3 hours) will be subject to a fee. The larger, more in-depth requests come from the local newspaper reporters that have been using Town employees like their research staff at the taxpayers' expense. They have been issuing FOIA requests even when the information was available to them on the Town's website or other public documents like the budget.
We all support open, transparent government and I believe that this ordinance will have very little impact on the citizens of Herndon or the accessibility of public information.
Town of Herndon, Virginia 20170
703 709 5404
Thanks for writing in, and I appreciate your position, but my worry is that these sorts of polciies can quickly morph into far more than intended when subsequent administrations inherit them. And those pesky reporters pay taxes too :)
Where can I find this "recent opinion" I was charged by Madson County Sheriff's Office for 2 hours of the Sheriff's Time @$34.84 hourly rate, 2 hours of his chief Deputey's time @ $30.80 an hour and .5 hours of his secretaries time at $16.06 an hour
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