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Court Rules on ‘Transaction of Public Business’

Deborah Elkins//September 16, 2011

Court Rules on ‘Transaction of Public Business’

Deborah Elkins//September 16, 2011

In resolving petitioners’ request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to a former member of the Saltville Town Council for communications, including email communications, with a town employee between certain dates, the Smyth County Circuit Court considers what constitutes “transaction of public business” under the Act and says petitioner is entitled to information concerning public business, with personal information redacted.

It is clear the town was caught on the horns of a dilemma considering the facts as stated in the complaint.
The court agrees that a Freedom of Information Act request and response under Va. Code § 2.2-3700 is purely statutory. The town acted properly seeking guidance in determining its legal obligation to each of the defendants. In order to make proper rulings, the court must first look to Code § 2.2-3701 and the definition of “Public Records” and in particular those records which may be considered “transaction of public business.”

The court also must consider the documents that are included within the file as exhibits “G” and “H,” and those included in Sealed Exhibit #1. The purpose of examining each individual document is to determine whether that document is a public record and/or if it is considered a “transaction of public business.”

The court overrules the demurrer filed by defendant Surber, and his petition for a writ of mandamus. A default judgment shall be entered against defendants Price and Saltville Publishing Company.

Some of the exhibits deal with the transaction of town business and some are totally personal and are not subject to disclosure under FOIA. Exhibits “G” and “H” fall within the Freedom of Information Act. Each of the emails in the exhibits is in the file and open to the public. The town attorney is directed to furnish copies to anyone interested. The court read each of the emails included in the “Sealed Exhibit #1.” There are nine letters, which are considered part business and part personal. The court redacted that portion considered personal in each. Those emails are being sent to the town attorney and he is directed to send copies to you.

The court finds that nine of the communications are in part records “in the transaction of public business” and therefore subject to disclosure under the FOIA.

Town of Saltville v. Surber (Freeman) Law No. 11-100, July 11, 2011; Smyth County Cir.Ct.; Christen W. Burkholder, Town Attorney; B.L. Conway II, Jeffrey L. Campbell for the parties. VLW 011-8-169, 8 pp.

VLW 011-8-169

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