Letter to the Editor: County Administration Defies FOIA Request

The Clarke County Administration has defied a Freedom of Information Act request by this writer on March 29, delivered to Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert in preparation for the public hearing scheduled by the board next week (April 11) on the county’s proposed $20.5-million appropriation for Fiscal Year 2013, which begins July 1.
In order to save time after county clerk Lora Walburn said there were “thousands of emails” that were covered by the request, I simply asked for a printout of the computer list of   documents and records covered by the request so what was needed immediately could be narrowed down.
My March 29 request had asked the county to provide documents to   justify an apparent conflict of interest involving the dual role of Thomas J. Judge as both county Joint Administrative Services director (in charge of the county government’s   financial accounting, purchasing, and property management) and also clerk of the School Board (in charge of documenting implementation of the public school system’s policies and budget requirements).
But County Administrator David L. Ash, responding for Mr. Hobert, replied only with a list of Joint Administrative Services staff positions and job descriptions, denying the requested listing, and stated:
“The County has no ‘Vaughn Index’ or any other index of the documents described, and is not required under the Virginia FOIA to create records which do not already exist (Virginia Code § 2.23704.D).” Required, no — but not prohibited from doing so to be helpful.
Mr. Ash also replied, “This is not a response on behalf of the Clarke County School Board, which is a separate statutory entity with a separate records custodian.”   That confirmed the apparent conflict of Mr. Judge’s dual role (“separate statutory entity”), while ignoring the fact that Mr. Judge had drafted prior responses to my letters addressed to both Board of Supervisors Chairman Hobert and School Board Chairman Janet Alger.   But not this time in the county’s game of cat-and-mouse.
This was a clever dodge that evaded the conflict-of-interest issue entirely and requiring me to appeal the FOIA denial and head for court if the county’s evasion of the Freedom of Information Act continues past adoption of the proposed $20.5 FY 2013 appropriation.
It’s sad, because what our government managers are playing with here is the very integrity and validity of its current budget process, and the openness they claim our county government represents.
George Archibald
Berryville , VA

Comments

  1. Roscoe Evans says:

    So, if Tom Judge has a “duel” role, which Tom gets to choose his weapon?

    Sorry, but I don’t buy the handwringing over the integrity and validity of the current budget process, when all of the parties to whom Tom owes his duties of loyalty, etc., are fully aware of this purported conflict of interest, and have expressly consented to his service in his two interrelated positions. Heck, Mike Hobert, the guy this FOIA request was made to, wears multiple governmental hats himself. There’s no problem, because all of Clarke County knows this information: it is public, open and notorious, and not prohibited by any law or ethics rule. So, why this attack on Tom Judge?

    I do look forward to hearing what a federal judge does to Mr. Archibald’s request for information about President Obama’s birth records. But that is just idle curiosity. No legitimate threat exists to a President elected by a majority of the national electorate and the majority of the electoral college, except in Fantasyland.

    This “challenge” to the legitimacy of Tom Judge’s work seems equally fantastical, but unfortunately and bizarrely, personal.

    What’s the real story?

  2. Ummm…waaah. You’re a past-his-prime muckraker looking to create drama when there’s no need to create drama. Seriously…you’re becoming this town’s Don Quioxte, only with lesser-quality writing and no soundtrack. Not sure why you feel the need to file these ridiculous FOIAs or threaten lawsuits over them, but you really need a different hobby.

  3. george fox says:

    It’s “dual”, not “duel”, unless the writer really means flintlocks at dawn. As for “Defies FOA request”, I gather that the county declined to fulfill the request in exactly the way Archibald demanded, but that’s hardly defiance, just a reasonable response. Calm down.

  4. George Archibald says:

    To Roscoe Evans: The reason for the questions raised is the county’s move to raise real estate taxes another 2 cents unnecessarily while carrying over a quarter-million dollar surplus of unspent tax money every year since 2009. In addition, he county has a $13-million “rainy day” fund of surplus cash in the bank for unforseen emergencies.

    Tom Judge serves as both School Board clerk, which has the $247,227 surplus carryover every year, while drafting a bigger budget this year as Joint Administrative Services director, which does all the county buying. The county budget drafted by staff director Judge proposes to raise our real estate taxes another 2 cents unnecesarily when the county government has all this surplus unspent tax money already raised and carried over from prior years.

    What’s wrong with asking what’s going on here? Even the City of Winchester and Frederick County have smaller “rainy day” funds than Clarke County.

    • J Gibson says:

      As School Board Clerk, he takes notes of the meetings and drafts certain letters on its behalf. He has NO authority to influence the board at all in that capacity…and I’d wager he’s not paid some exhorbitant amount for it, either.

      No, Mr. Archibald, you just seem to have a lot of idle time on your hands…and are seeing demons behind every bush. Give it a rest, and do something productive with your time. Don’t waste court time with this one.

  5. livein22611 says:

    The county does seem to have a rather large “rainy day” fund. Some of it is set aside for projects, but how realistic are these projects and how needed are they? I also think we can put a hold on the conservation easements for a while. We have more pressing matters that the money can be spent on. I think it’s a good idea to take a good hard look at the county budget. And can we look at the different land use tax rates too? Bet we could find some extra money by applying the correct rates to ALL county landholders.