Do you know a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) hero?
Do know someone in state or local government who has gone beyond the words and technicalities of the Freedom of Information Act to embrace a broader vision of the public’s right to know?
Do you know a reporter who has pored over records obtained under FOIA, or sat through countless hours of public meetings, to make sure the whole truth gets out there?
Do you know a neighbor or friend who has worked tirelessly to keep your government open and accountable?
I do. In fact, I’ve know lots of them of the years. And every year, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government recognizes these heroes at its annual conference. And that’s what VCOG plans to do at its conference this year: November 30 at the Craddock Terry Hotel & Event Center in Lynchburg.
We need your help, though. We need nominations.
Last year we recognized three from the Northern Virginia area: Jill Hill, who used FOIA to find out as much as she could about why the Fairfax School Board closed a local elementary school, and House of Delegates members Jim LeMunyon and Mark Keam, who co-sponsored a bill to put the voting histories of House members online and searchable.
One year we recognized a woman who basically started her own government website with records she obtained through FOIA because the official government site was devoid of any real content. We recognized another woman from a very small town whose poking and prodding of her local government prompted allegations that she slashed someone’s tires (turns out, she was at a public meeting at the time the incident was supposed to have taken place!).
There was the man whose simple request for records about a local fish hatchery ultimately led to the implosion of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
There were the three newspapers and the Virginia Press Association who won a Virginia Supreme Court case over an improperly held closed meeting. And the reporter whose FOIA requests revealed a kickback scheme between a magistrate and a bail bondsman, who just happened to be his father, too.
VCOG recognized two Southside cities who created stand-alone FOIA offices. The Library of Virginia was recognized for insisting that a governor’s records be turned over for archiving. The award one year went to the Department of Transportation’s innovative FOIA Tracker system.
All did good work. And all deserved to be recognized. I'm proud of their work.
We hear about a lot of these people throughout the year. But some wouldn’t come to our attention without nominations from the general public. So, if you know a FOIA hero, please nominate him/her (or it, in the case of a governmental entity), but going to VCOG’s website and filling out an online form.
Better yet: be a FOIA hero yourself!