Freedom of Information Act

Rights & Responsibilities

The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of Pittsylvania County, Virginia,

under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act 

 The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), §§ 2.2-3700 et seq., Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended, 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, 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’s policy 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.

  

 Your FOIA Rights
 

You have  the  right  to  request  to  inspect  or  receive  copies  of  public  records,  or  both.

You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance. 

If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel FOIA compliance.  Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.

   

 

Making a Request for Records from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, and any of its Constitutional Officers (collectively the “County”)

 

 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.

 

 

  • From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing.  This allows you to create a record of your request.  It also gives the County a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request.  However, the County cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request, if you elect to not put it in writing

 

Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity."  This is a common-sense standard.  It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that the County can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
  

 

Your request must ask for existing records or documents.  FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the County’s work, nor does it require the County to create a record that does not exist.

You may choose to receive electronic records in ay format used by the County 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

 

If the County has questions about your request, please cooperate with County Staff's efforts 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 FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but the County may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that it understands what records you are seeking.

 

 

To request records from the County, you may direct your request to J. Vaden Hunt, Esq., Pittsylvania County Attorney/FOIA Officer.  He can be reached at 1 Center Street, P.O. Box 426, Chatham, Virginia 24531, phone (434) 432-7720, fax (434) 432-1778, and email vaden.hunt@pittgov.org. You may also contact him with questions you have concerning requesting records from the 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 foiacouncil@dls.virginia.gov, or by phone at (804) 225-3056 or [toll free] 1-866-448-4100.
 

The County’s Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request

 

The County must respond to your request within five (5) working days of receiving it.  "Day One" (1) is considered the day after your request is received.  The five (5) day period does not include weekends or holidays.

The reason behind your request for public records from the County is irrelevant, and you do not have to state why you want the records before the County responds to your request.  FOIA does, however, allow the County to require you to provide your name and legal address.

 

FOIA requires that the County make one (1) of the following responses to your request within the five (5) day time period:

 

1)      The County provides you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.

2)      The County withholds 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, the County 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(s) of the Code of Virginia that allows it to withhold the records.

3)      The County provides some of the records that you have requested, but withholds other records.  The County cannot withhold an entire record, if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption.  In that instance, the County may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record.  The County must provide you with a written response stating the specific section(s) of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.

4)      The County informs you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (i.e., the County does not have the records you want).  However, if the County knows that another public body has the requested records, it must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you. 

5)      If it is practically impossible for the County to respond to your request within the five (5) day period, the County must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible.  This will allow it seven (7) additional working days to respond to your request, giving the County a total of twelve (12) working days to respond to your request.
 

  • If you make a request for a very large number of records, and the County feel that it cannot provide the records to you within twelve (12) working days without disrupting its other organizational responsibilities, the County may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request.  However, FOIA requires that the County make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before it goes to court to ask for more time.

 

Costs


 
 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 § 2.2-3704(F), Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended.

You may have to pay for the records that you request from the County.  FOIA allows the County 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 the County estimates that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, it may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the estimate, before proceeding with your request.  The five (5) days that the County has to respond to your request does not include the time between when it asks for a deposit and when you respond.

You may request that the County 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 the County money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than thirty (30) days, the County may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.

 

Types of Records

 

 
 The following is a general description of the types of records held by the County:
 

  • Personnel records concerning County employees and officials
  • Records of County contracts
  • E-911 records
  • Procurement records
  • Real Estate records
  • Tax records
  • Meeting minutes, resolutions, and other related documents
  • Planning and zoning records
  • Economic Development records

 

If you are unsure whether the County has the record(s) you seek, please contact J. Vaden Hunt, Esq., Pittsylvania County Attorney/FOIA Officer.  He can be reached at 1 Center Street, P.O. Box 426, Chatham, Virginia 24531, phone (434) 432-7720, fax (434) 432-1778, and email vaden.hunt@pittgov.org. 
 
 

Commonly Used Exemptions


 
 The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure.  The County commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
 

  • Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1(1))
  • Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1(2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1(3))
  • 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))
  • County Administrator “working papers” (2.2-3705.7(2))
  • Medical records (2.2-3705.5(1))

 

Policy Regarding the Use of Exemptions 
 
 

  • The County’s general policy is to invoke the personnel records exemption in those instances where it applies to protect the privacy of County employees and officials.
  • The County’s general policy is to invoke the contract negotiations exemption and the purchase or disposition of real estate exemption whenever they apply to protect the County's bargaining position and negotiating strategy.
  • The County’s general policy is to invoke the investigative files exemption for applicable Sheriff records to protect the privacy of crime victims and witnesses and to avoid harming investigations or prosecutions.
  • The County’s general policy is not to release legal records exempt under Virginia Code §§  2.2-3705.1 (2) or 2.2-3705.1 (3).
  • Virginia law prohibits the release/disclosure of tax records covered by Virginia Code § 58.1-3.
  • The County reserves the right to utilize any exemption provided under FOIA.