Monday, February 23, 2009


On February 12th I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with county government. I asked for documents connected to the interview process for filling the seat on the Board of Supervisors for the North District. Here is the text of that request:
Hi Mr. Spencer,

A newspaper article (in the Telegraph, I believe) quoted Mr. Anderson last week as saying that each of the seven candidates being interviewed for the BOS seat would be asked the same set of questions. It also said something to the effect of that the interviews were being held in executive session in order to protect the appointment process and prevent any candidate from gaining an unfair advantage by hear the others go first.

Since that process is now over, I'd like to request a copy of that list of questions under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA; § 2.2 -3700 et seq. ). I understand that the proceedings of an executive session are protected (to the extent that they do not violate any open meeting laws). But I'm assuming that this document existed in a file somewhere before the executive session began, and probably continues to exist in that same file, even though the executive session is over. So that list of questions would not be covered by whatever protections are afforded to the discussions that occur in an executive session.

As a separate, second FOIA request, I'm asking for a.) any records that were kept by the Board or county administration listing questions that were asked of individual candidates as a follow up to their answers to questions on the list covered in the first request and b.) any records that were kept by the Board or county administration regarding the answers to interview question from the individual candidates.

I make these two requests separately because of their different standings. The first request (for a simple list ofquestions that probably existed independent of the executive session) seems to me to be aimed at obtaining a document that could easily be established to be a public document. I realize that the second request covers documents that are more tentative in nature regarding their public availability.

I would also like to request that all charges for supplying the records I have requested be estimated in advance. I understand that if you determine that the charges are likely to exceed $200, I am obliged to pay that amount before you continue to process my request. If you have any questions or require additional information in order to process this request, please do not hesitate to contact me at this email address. My job situation as a teacher makes it difficult for to take phone calls during the work day, but I would be happy to give you a call if via email you tell me that we need to speak about the request.

If any of the documents exist in MS Word form, I would be quite happy to have them simply emailed to this address. If a hard copy needs to be mailed instead, my address is 1732 Mundytown Rd North Tazewell 24630. If this request needs a handwritten signature in order to be considered valid, let me know and I'll print this, sign it, and mail it.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this. Hope you're well.



GK Cruey
I sent the request at 10pm on February 12th (the interviews were on the 11th). I sent the request (as you can see) to our county Administrator, Jim Spencer.

Jim sent me a reply from his Blackberry at 6:30 Friday morning (I was impressed), telling me he'd pass the request on to the Board of Supervisors. He checked his mail on a computer somewhere (presumably his office) about ten 'til eight that morning and I got a receipt for the actual email.

Despite the flack as Earl (Cedar Bluff Review) gives Jim, my guess is that Jim earns every penny he makes from the county...

On Thursday I got a letter from County Attorney Eric Young telling me that the documents I'd requested were not public document. Despite that, he told me that the BOS had seen fit to send me "a list of some of the questions given to the interviewees."

I got a list of seven fairly predictable questions. Which is not to say they weren't good questions. Why do you want to be the Northern District Supervisor? Questions about priorities, etc.

I also received six pages from Bill Wimmer with a note from Mr. Young saying that Bill had decided to send me his notes. Bill's notes were written on the list of questions; each sheet had a candidate's name at the top. I called Bill to thank him. I also spoke with Mike Hymes (who told me that if I really wanted his notes he'd send them to me).

What I really want is for this process to take place in public.

Mr. Young's letter is clear: "I write to inform you that those records are being withheld."

So far everyone has been professional, polite, and gracious. I've gotten more than I actually expected. But the position of BOS's across the state seems to be that it's perfectly acceptable to carry out the process of filling a seat on the Board by meeting in private to discuss it. As Tom Childress has said repeatedly, we are not hiring a custodian; and this has happened twice in four years.

It would be nice to find a way to change this practice and bring more transparency to local government on this issue...

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