Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), you have the right to examine public records.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 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.
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA 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 compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
How to make a FOIA request
You may submit a records request in several ways:
- FOIA Officer: Shannon Taylor, Commonwealth’s Attorney
- Email: HenricoCA@henrico.us
- Fax: 804-501-4218
- U.S. Mail: Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, FOIA Request, PO Box 90775, Henrico, VA 23273-0775
- In person: 4301 E. Parham Rd, courts Bldg., Room 270, Henrico, VA 23228
You may also contact her with questions you have concerning requesting records from the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. 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 email@example.com, or by phone at (804) 225-3056 or [toll free] 1-866-448-4100.
Fulfilling your request
Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office will respond within five working days of receiving a request. “Day One” is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays. FOIA requires that Henrico County make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period.
The reason behind your request for public records from the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office 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 Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to require you to provide your name and legal address.
- Provide the records requested in their entirety.
- Withhold all of the records requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, a response in writing will be sent with an explanation of the exemption. That response will identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows the records to be withheld.
- Provide some of the records requested, but withhold other records. An entire record will not be withheld if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, the portion of the record that may be withheld will be redacted, the remainder of the record will be provided. A written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld will be sent.
- Respond in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist. However, if another public body has the requested records, contact information for the other public body will be included in the response.
- If Henrico County cannot respond to a request within the five-day period, you will be informed in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow seven additional working days to respond a request, providing a total of 12 working days to respond to a request.
If a request for a very large number of records is made, and it is determined that it cannot be provide within 12 working days without disrupting other organizational responsibilities, the County may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that a reasonable effort be made to reach an agreement concerning the production or the records before going to court to ask for more time.
- 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 the estimated cost is more than $200, a deposit may be required (not to exceed the amount of the estimate), before proceeding with your request. The five days to respond to a request does not include the time between a request for a deposit and a response from the requestor.
- You may have to pay for the records that you request from the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. Costs include items such as staff time, copying costs or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It will not include general overhead costs.
- If requested, an estimate of the chargeswill be provided prior to supplying the records 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 money is owed from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, Henrico County may require payment of the past-due bill before responding to a new FOIA request.
- A request must identify the records needed with “reasonable specificity.” This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records requested; instead, it requires that a request be specific enough to identify and locate records.
- A request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA allows for inspection or copying of records; it does not apply to a situations asking general questions about the work of (the Department), nor does it require (the Department) to create a record that does not exist.
- Records can be provided in the format in which they were created.
- 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.
- You may be contacted if there are questions about a request, to ensure that the appropriate records are being provided.
- If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with 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 we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
Types of Records
The following is a general description of the types of records held by the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office:
- Personnel records concerning employees and officials of the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office
- Records of contracts which the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has entered into
If you are unsure whether the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has the record(s) you seek, please contact Shannon Taylor directly at a physical address of 4301 East Parham Road, Courts Building, Room 270, Henrico, Virginia, 23228 or mailing address at P.O. Box 90775, Henrico, Virginia 23273-0775, phone 804-501-4218, fax 804-501-4110, HenricoCA@henrico.us.
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. Henrico County Government commonly withholds records subject to exemptions such as:
- Personnel records
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege
- Vendor proprietary information
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded
- Security matters
As a general matter, these records are typically withheld from disclosure. Virginia law provides many additional exemptions from disclosure within the Freedom of Information Act. You may review the full Act, including the exemptions, here.
Policy regarding the use of exemptions
State any written policy your agency may have regarding when statutory exemptions will be invoked to withhold records. For example:
- The general policy of the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is to invoke the personnel records exemption in those instances where it applies in order to protect the privacy of employees and officials of the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
- The general policy of the Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is to invoke the contract negotiations exemption whenever it applies in order to protect The Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office bargaining position and negotiating strategy.
About Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — located in § 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. The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness and transparency of government activities and afford residents an opportunity to witness the operations of government.
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.
If you are looking for the Henrico County FOIA you can find that, here.