School board addresses FOIA

Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Prince Edward County School Board members last week discussed their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Buffalo District representative Wilkie Chaffin initiated the discussion, which took place Nov. 9. Chaffin proposed a statement regarding FOIA compliance meant to ensure the board’s compliance is above and beyond the written word of the law.

FOIA provides citizens with the right to information from their government and governing bodies. It mandates certain procedures for actions such as requesting documents and holding government meetings.

Email newsletter signup

Chair and Farmville Representative Sherry Honeycutt said the board’s attorney and an adviser both said Chaffin’s proposed statement is a redundancy of Board Policy KBA, which currently reads, “Prince Edward County School Board complies with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.”

Wilkie Chaffin

Wilkie Chaffin

“I don’t know why you can’t make redundant motions,” Chaffin said.

He emphasized the importance of not only complying with FOIA but also avoiding the appearances of non-

compliance with FOIA. Chaffin said he wants the board to go further than it is required to in regard to transparency and providing information to constituencies. He said he would like the board to “encourage people to ask for extra information.”

Vice Chair and Hampden District Representative Beulah Womack asked for Policy KBA to be stated. “It’s very important that we make sure we are doing what we’re supposed to do,” Womack said.

Farmville District Representative Peter Gur agreed.

“Discussion about FOIA is very important,” Gur said.

Chaffin suggested the board has made several mistakes with FOIA compliance. Honeycutt said things were “done differently” prior to the current administration.

“We are trying to be more in tune with what it says,” she said.

Chaffin motioned for the board to approve the following statement: “The Prince Edward County School Board will make every attempt to avoid any violation or the appearance of a violation of the technical requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and to uphold the principle of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to ‘…afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government.’”

Dr. Timothy W. Corbett Sr., Leigh District representative, agreed.

“I like what he says better because he says we will make every effort,” Corbett.

Sherry Honeycutt

Sherry Honeycutt

“I don’t know why we are fighting about doing something like this,” Womack said. “Why are we fighting?”

At that point, the motion was called to a vote.

The motion passed with Prospect District representative Darin Thomas, Farmville District representative Lawrence Varner and Honeycutt voting no. The remaining five members voted yes.

The school board in August chose Clerk of the Board Melanie Adams to also serve as its FOIA officer.

Adams said she believes the board’s compliance has been strengthened now that she serves as a FOIA officer. Her role is to serve as a point of contact for members of the public requesting records and to ensure the board’s adherence to FOIA guidelines. As such, she receives at least yearly training on FOIA.

“Having a direct point of contact means there can be accountability with the processing of FOIA requests,” Adams said.

As FOIA officer, she said she adheres strictly to Policy KBA, “Request for Information,” and gives careful consideration to all requests.

“Since my designation as FOIA officer, the board and the administration has obtained an increased awareness of the requirements and the purpose of FOIA and are seeking to go over and beyond with supporting the purpose of FOIA to promote public awareness of school board business,” Adams said.