Citizen Seeks Statement

Published 5:12 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

CUMBERLAND – Bill Bruce, a citizen of Cumberland County's fourth district, is having a hard time obtaining docu-ments he has requested from Supervisor Parker Wheeler, District Five.

A response by County Attorney and Administrator Vivian Giles to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted to her office by Bruce was included as evidence in a complaint filed in Cumberland County Circuit Court against Wheeler.

The complaint petitions the removal of Wheeler from the Cumberland Board of Supervisors. (See accompanying story in to-day's paper.)

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The Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1968 and is meant to promote transparency in government. It ensures citi-zens have access to state and local government records and meetings, with certain exceptions.

According to Giles' response, Bruce requested a written statement read by Wheeler during the board member comments por-tion of the March Board of Supervisors meeting.

During the meeting, Wheeler read from a statement explaining the tax lien filed against him in Prince Edward County Circuit Court. (See article in the March 20 edition of The Herald.)

Giles wrote in her response: “My office is not in possession of the written statement you have requested. The individual whom I believe to be in sole possession of the requested document may be reached as follows…” She then provided the name and contact information for Wheeler.

The FOIA response went on to state, “Enclosed please find an audio recording of the meeting at which the statement you re-quested was read aloud. A transcript of the statement could be prepared from this audio recording should you so desire, though it will take additional time to generate that transcript document. Please contact my office if you would like for a transcript to be ordered.”

Ginger Stanley is executive director of the Virginia Press Association, chief lobbyist for the newspaper industry, and well versed in FOIA. She believes Giles has satisfied her obligation, because she has given the requested information to the citizen in every form that she has.

“The citizen has every right though, to ask the board member for a copy of that statement in a paper form,” Stanley says.

Asked if the board member is required to give the statement to the citizen, Stanley replied, “Absolutely! Absolutely! If you are a public official, all records, all records that deal with public business are FOIA-able.”

She went on to explain that the only time an official can say they have an exclusion is when it is a matter that was done in closed session and never discussed in open session.

When The Herald asked Wheeler if he had a response to the FOIA request that Bruce submitted, Wheeler said, “No. I told him to contact the county attorney and the county attorney should be able to inform him what's going on.”

When asked if she had a statement regarding the request, Giles declined to comment.