Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Virginia Freedom of Information Act Policy
The City of Hopewell has a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policy that guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by the public bodies, public officials, and public employees. The purpose is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this city 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 narrowly interpreted.
MAKING A FOIA REQUEST
To request records from a department within the City of Hopewell, you may do so, in writing by U.S. Mail, email, in-person with the completion of a form or over the phone. While FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, or specifically state that you are requesting such records under the Virginia FOIA statutes, however, it helpful to the requestor as well as the City of Hopewell to have the request in writing. This allows for the establishment of a record of the request. It also provides a clear statement of what records are being requested. The request must identify the records that you are seeking with “reasonable specificity”.
FOIA records are not limited by volume or number of records which may be requested. Instead FOIA requires that all requests are specific enough to identify and locate the records being sought, if maintained by the City of Hopewell.
RESPONSES TO FOIA REQUESTS
The City of Hopewell will require the requestor’s name and legal address as part of the request. FOIA provides for a response to all requests within five (5) working days of receipt of the request. A response may include:
- The requested records may be produced in their entirety.
- The requested records may be withheld in their entirety because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If the records are withheld, the City of Hopewell will send the individual a response in writing. The writing will identify the subject matter of the records being withheld and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia, 1950 that allows the withholding.
- The City of Hopewell may provide the record in part and withhold part of the record. The record will contain redactions of the portion of the record that may be withheld and provide the remainder of the record. A written response must be provided which states that the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows the exemption of the portion of the record(s) withheld.
- The City of Hopewell informs the requestor that the records cannot be found or do not exist. Where the City Of Hopewell knows another public body has the requested records, the name of the other agency or governmental body will be provided to the requestor.
- If it is not practically possible for the City of Hopewell to respond to the request within a five (5) day period (working days), the requestor will be notified of the city’s use of an extension pursuant to Virginia Code §2.2-3704. Such extension will provide the City of Hopewell with an additional seven (7) working days to provide a response to the requestor.
The obligation to provide non-exempted, existing records does not mean that the City of Hopewell is obligated to answer general questions regarding FOIA requests, provide legal advice or opinions surrounding the FOIA requests or create records that do not exist to comply with the FOIA request. Individuals may contact the Freedom of Information Advisory Council for answers to their questions about Virginia FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 804.698.1810 or 866.448.4100.
FOIA allows the charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items such as staff time spent searching for the requested records, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs. Fees for FOIA requests have been established by City Council.
The fees shall be calculated in 15 minutes increment and will include the hourly rate of each (exempt or non-exempt) employee used to produce the records and the reasonable costs for supplies to facilitate the request (i.e. DVDs, CDs, thumb drives, etc.).
If the total more than $200, the City of Hopewell will require a deposit, before proceeding with the request. The five-day time period does not include the time between asking for a deposit and the response.
If an individual owes money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, the City of Hopewell may require payment of the past due bill before it will respond to a new FOIA request.
A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records and shall make all reasonable efforts to supply the requested records at the lowest possible cost. 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. Prior to conducting a search for records, the public body shall notify the requester in writing that the public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for requested records and inquire of the requester whether he would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the supplying of the requested records as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.