Orange County Staff Stay Informed
By Michelle Williams, FOIA Officer
On November 4, 2022, members of Orange County Senior Leadership, Key Leadership, and other staff attended a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) training. This training was taught by the Virginia Freedom of Information Council ’ s very own legal counsel, Alan Gernhardt, where he reviewed a PowerPoint presentation that described requirements for local elected officials, public records, public meetings, and remedies and penalties related to the Freedom of Information Act. The Code of Virginia states that, “ the General Assembly ensures the people of the Commonwealth ready access to public records in custody of a public body or its officers and employees, and free entry to meetings of public bodies wherein the business of the people is being conducted. ” However, there are exemptions and prohibitions to these, specifically, to documents or public records. Exemptions include personnel records, attorney - client privilege, legal memoranda and other work product, contract negotiations, procurement exemptions, and account & routing numbers. Gernhardt advised his pupils that there are five (5) suitable responses to a FOIA request: (1) provide the requested records; (2) requested records are being entirely withheld; (3) requested records are being provided in part and withheld in part; (4) requested records could not be found or do not exist; and (5) additional time is needed to search for or produce records. The Freedom of Information Act allows for five (5) working days to provide a response to the requestor. These days do not include Saturday and Sunday or County holidays where offices are closed for business, nor do they include the day the request is received. For completing the training with Mr. Gernhardt, employees will receive an official certificate acknowledging their completion of FOIA training. FOIA Officers and elected officials are required to complete the training every two (2) years. FOIA Officer Michelle Williams followed Mr. Gernhardt ’ s training with a brief overview of the process she has for acknowledging, processing, and responding to FOIA requests. By teaching staff about the key components to the Freedom of Information Act, the County can ensure a smooth and thorough process is completed and they are providing transparency to the citizens of the Commonwealth in accordance with the law. As a citizen, if you ’ re not sure who your FOIA request goes to, the County has seven (7) FOIA Officers: one (1) who provides records for many of the departments under the County Administrator ’ s purview, one (1) for
each of the five (5) Constitutional Officers (Sherriff, Commissioner of the Revenue, Treasurer, Circuit Court Clerk, and Commonwealth ’ s Attorney), and one (1) for Voter Registration & Elections. Their contact information can be found on the County ’ s website. For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, please visit the Virginia FOIA Council ’ s website.
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