Albemarle Co. still honoring FOIA request deadlines despite emergency ordinance

Albemarle Co. still honoring FOIA request deadlines despite emergency ordinance
(FILE) (Source: WVIR)

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors announced an emergency ordinance that no longer requires the county to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests within a set deadline.

The original deadline for the county to respond to FOIA requests is five business days, except under certain circumstances where paper records or decades worth of information are requested.

Although the language of the ordinance causes concern for some advocates, Albemarle County says nothing has really changed since it was put in place.

“It becomes all the more important to be upfront and transparent, because when you’re cut off like that, that fuels all kids of fear, the speculation of uncertainty,” Virginia Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Megan Ryhne said.

The emergency ordinance allows the deadline to be “extended indefinitely.”

“People have been using this procedure for years and years and years. And so to not be able to rely on that, and to have no real idea of when you might expect to receive your information that you’re entitled to can be very problematic,” Rhyne said.

County spokesperson Emily Kilroy said the ordinance was put in place as a precaution.

“At the beginning of the crisis, it wasn’t clear exactly what the impacts would be on local operations, so we wanted to make sure we had the pieces in place to respond accordingly always with the public’s best interest in mind,” Kilroy said.

Kilroy said even with the ordinance in place, requests are fulfilled as they normally would.

“I’m very proud to share that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have only been two requests that did not meet the standard day-day FOIA turn around.” she said.

Kilroy mentioned once local emergency ordinances expire, the response deadline will return back to normal.

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