Freedom of Information Act
Rights & ResponsibilitiesThe Virginia 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.
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.
Making a Request for records from the City of Newport News
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, though, it may be helpful to both you and the City to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we 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 we 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 work of the City, nor does it require the City to create a record that does not exist. You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the City in the regular course of business.
To request records from the City or if you have questions about requesting records from the City, please contact the City's FOIA Officer:
2400 Washington Avenue, 6th Floor
Newport News, VA 23607
For FOIA requests relating to the following offices, please contact the FOIA Officer listed below:
- Circuit Court – Gary Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-926-8355
- Commissioner of the Revenue – Tiffany Boyle, email@example.com, 757-926-8752
- Sheriff – Dottie Wikan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-926-8747
- Treasurer – Jeff Henderson, email@example.com, 757-926-8740
In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer questions about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 804-225-3056 or toll free at 1-866-448-4100.
The City's Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request
FOIA requires that the City make one of the following responses to your request within five business days after receiving your request.
- We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- We withhold 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, we 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 of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
- We provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- We inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you want). However, if we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
- If it is practically impossible for the City to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
You may have to pay for the records that you request from the City. FOIA allows us 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. The cost cannot include general overhead costs or fringe benefits.
If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we will require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you provide the deposit.
You may request that we 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 us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, the City may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.
Types of Records
All records prepared by or in the possession of the City of Newport News during the transaction of public business are subject to FOIA. All public records are presumed to be open and are withheld only if a specific exemption applies. You will be notified if any requested records are being withheld and the reason for the withholding of any records, including the appropriate authority (law or code section) which permits the City to withhold such records. Although the City strives to assist you as much as possible, FOIA does not require that the City create records that do not already exist.
The City maintains records including, but not limited to: policies, ordinances, correspondence, regulatory records, tax records and assessments, agendas, supporting materials and minutes of the meetings of the City's boards and commissions, budgets, contracts and other records necessary to perform the legal functions of the City government.
Commonly Used Exemptions
FOIA allows the City to withhold certain records from public disclosure. The following list, while not exhaustive, contains examples of records the City commonly withholds along with the specific applicable exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
- 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))
- Working papers of the mayor or city manager (§ 2.2-3705.7(2))
- Medical records (§2.2-3705.5(1)
- The first five digits of social security numbers contained in any record (§2.2-3815))
- Confidential tax records (§58.1-3)
- Information identifying victims or witnesses of a crime (§2.2-3706(D)) or other investigative records other than criminal incident information (§2.2-3607(A))
- Information involving a juvenile under the age of 14 who is charged with a violent felony
- Information regarding child protective services (§63.2-105)
- Information regarding beneficiaries of social service programs (§63.2-104)
- Information regarding certain administrative investigations (§2.2-3705.1(1), §2.2- 2305.3, §2.2-3706(F)(11))
- Identifying information regarding a complainant making a zoning, building code or fire code complaint (§2.2-3705.3 (10))
- Records prepared for used during a closed hearing of any board or commission (§2.2-3705.3(5))