Uncovering Public Business: Exploring Loudoun Settlement Disclosures through FOIA Requests

Virginia’s leaders have a long history of conducting their decision-making behind closed doors, a practice that contradicts the state’s Freedom of Information Act. This act presumes that all government Business is public by default and requires officials to justify exceptions. However, in practice, many officials often act as if records are private by default, requiring the public to prove why they should be handled otherwise.

Some bills in the General Assembly have sparked debate around public access to records. One bill clarifies the circumstances under which a meeting must be considered public, while another imposes a cap on the fees that public bodies can charge to fulfill FOIA requests.

The right-wing media outlet Daily Wire is suing Loudoun County Public Schools after the division refused to disclose the settlement figure for a sexual assault case at Broad Run High School. The lawsuit claims that the settlement amount is exempt from FOIA due to student privacy and litigation factors.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government has been instrumental in tracking FOIA and other transparency cases in Virginia. This nonprofit alliance is dedicated to expanding access to government records, meetings, and other state and local proceedings.

In a recent case, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors voted to appeal a ruling ordering the disclosure of a closed meeting recording. The judge had found the board’s reason for the closed meeting to be insufficient under FOIA.

Additionally, the Spotsylvania County School Board’s decision to place Superintendent Mark Taylor on administrative leave in a closed meeting has raised concerns about compliance with FOIA. This action violates the law, which states that public bodies can only take action on issues discussed in closed sessions once they reconvene in public.

If you have experienced challenges with FOIA requests, you can share your story at [email protected]

The ongoing debate over public access to government records and meetings reflects the broader struggle for transparency and accountability in Virginia’s governance. It also highlights the significance of organizations like the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, which seek to expand access to vital information for the public.

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