Gov. Youngkin’s administration has blocked the release of public record requests, but is his office fully exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests?
At the beginning of February, media personnel across Virginia, as well as concerned community members had their requests for public records of emails and voicemails sent to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s teacher tipline denied.
The reason? The records were allegedly exempt, because they are “working papers and correspondence” of the governor’s office.
Now, it looks like Virginia’s top state officials are blocking inquiries into who made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other public records requests, including how they were handled, and how many were received. In plain terms, this means that the public can’t even see their own FOIA requests.
Per Va. State Code, the Governor’s Office is required to disclose “the volume and subject matter of withheld records,” but it appears that Youngkin’s administration is not doing so.
VPM’s Ben Paviour talked with Megan Rhyne, the executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, who said that the Youngkin Administration, as well as other state officials, are misinterpreting the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
“They’re giving it a reading that says pretty much the governor is exempt from FOIA,” Rhyne told VPM, adding that is not how the law was written, or has been interpreted in previous administrations over the years.
When VPM reached out to the governor’s office to ask for a FOIA log, their request was denied, citing the “working paper exemption” reason that was given to those who asked for information related to the education tipline.
Transparency in Virginia’s top offices isn’t something new, however. Even Youngkin’s predecessors faced scrutiny when it came to being transparent. The office of former Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t want to hand over his calendar when a controversy related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline arose. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe wanted to block a Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (VABC) report in relation to a 2015 incident where a University of Virginia student was violently arrested by VABC officers outside of a bar in Charlottesville.