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.
Berryville , VA