Freedom of Information Act
The free flow of information is essential to democracy.
The City of Williamsburg endeavors to provide information at all times that is factual, accurate and easily accessible. Citizens may contact City departments directly with requests for information and staff will be happy to assist them. In addition to finding information on the City's website, citizens may call staff and visit the City's offices, which are open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm
Citizens may request access to public records. Many records are available on the City's website, and others are available by request. Requests for records may be made by contacting the FOIA Coordinators, listed on this page, or the appropriate City Department directly, and citizens may make the requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
City of Williamsburg, Virginia Freedom of Information Requests
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located section 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.
A public record is any writing or recording - regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format - that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
Your FOIA Rights
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- The City of Williamsburg may make reasonable charges not to exceed the actual cost incurred in assessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for requested records. If you would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the City supplying the requested records, please send the request to FOIA@williamsburgva.gov, and please reference the date of the request, name of the requesting party and subject matter of the request.
- If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.
Records Maintained by the City
The City maintains records related to the operation of the City of Williamsburg including, but not limited to: policies, ordinances, correspondence, regulatory records, tax records and assessments, agendas, supporting materials and minutes of the meetings of the City's boards and commissions, budgets, contracts and other records necessary to perform the legal functions of the City government.
Making a Request for Records from the City of Williamsburg
- You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, email, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA.
- From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect to not put it in writing.
- Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
- Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the City of Williamsburg, nor does it require the City of Williamsburg to create a record that does not exist.
- You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the City of Williamsburg in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via email or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To Request Records from the City of Williamsburg
You may direct your request to the FOIA Coordinator(s) listed on this page or Department Manager of the appropriate Department:
401 Lafayette Street
Williamsburg, VA 23185
Email Williamsburg about FOIA
You may also contact the City Manager with questions you have concerning requesting records from the City of Williamsburg. If requesting information via email, please include your name, address, email address and phone number in the body of your email.
The City of Williamsburg's Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request
- The City of Williamsburg must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays, or other days during which the City of Williamsburg offices are closed.
- The reason behind your request for public records from The City of Williamsburg is irrelevant, and you do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow The City of Williamsburg to ask you to provide your name and legal address.
FOIA requires that The City of Williamsburg make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
- We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
- We withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
- We provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
- We inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you want). However, if we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
- If it is practically impossible for The City of Williamsburg to respond to your request within the five-day period (for example, if the records are voluminous or the request requires a search of extensive numbers of records), we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. In that event, the City may take up to seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
You may have to pay for the records that you request from The City of Williamsburg. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It does not include general overhead costs.
The City charges for staff time based on the hourly rate of pay of the staff member(s) performing the search, multiplied by the time it takes to complete the search. For example, if a request takes 1 hour to complete, and the staff person performing the search earns $20 per hour, the cost for the search would be $20. The City makes reasonable efforts to have administrative personnel perform FOIA searches, but that is not always possible based on the records sought and which staff person maintains custody of those records. Additionally, the City charges $.09 per page for copies. The City may waive charges for routine records requests taking less than 30 minutes to complete.
If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.
If you owe us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, The City of Williamsburg may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request.
Regarding FOIA costs, the Code of Virginia states: "A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of Section 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia."
Commonly Used Exemptions
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. Exclusions to FOIA are contained throughout the Code of Virginia, but are largely found in the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, Section 2.2-3705.1 et seq. The following list, while not exhaustive, contains examples of records the City of Williamsburg commonly withholds and references specific applicable exemptions:
- Personnel records (Section 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (Section 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (Section 2.2-3705.1 (3))
- Vendor proprietary information (Section 2.2-3705.1 (6))
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (Section 2.2-3705.1 (12))
- Medical records (Section2.2-3705.5(1)
- The first five digits of social security numbers contained in any record (Section2.2-3815))
- Confidential tax records (Section 58.1-3)
- Information identifying victims or witnesses of a crime (Section 2.2-3706(D)) or other investigative records other than criminal incident information (Section 2.2-3607(A))
- Information involving a juvenile under the age of 14 who is charged with a violent felony
- Information regarding child protective services (Section 63.2-105)
- Information regarding beneficiaries of social service programs (Section 63.2-104)
- Information regarding certain administrative investigations (Section 2.2-3705.1(1), Section 2.2- 23053, Section 2.2-3706(F)(11))
- Identifying information regarding a complainant making a zoning, building code or fire code complaint (Section 2.2-3705.3 (10))
- Records prepared for used during a closed hearing of any board or commission (Section2.2-3705.3(5)
Information protected by copyright in the possession of the City of Williamsburg may be reviewed by the requestor, however, the City may decline to make copies of such information if doing so will violate copyright law. If the information is publicly available, the City will endeavor to provide the requestor with information regarding where the record may be obtained. For example, City staff often use manuals which are protected by copyright. In such an instance, the City will provide publication information to the requestor).
The City of Williamsburg is not the custodian for records of the Williamsburg - James City County Circuit Court, General District Court, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, or the Williamsburg - James City County Sheriff's Office. Any requests involving the above referenced entities should be directed directly to those entities.
FOIA requests received by the City of Williamsburg are public records, are subject to the provisions of FOIA, and may not be withheld by the City should a subsequent request be received for which such FOIA request is responsive.
In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email or by phone at 804-225-3056 or [toll free] 866-448-4100.
Freedom of Information Act Coordinators
For general City information:
- Nicole Trifone, Public Information Officer
- Christina Shelton, City Attorney
Email Williamsburg about FOIA (if requesting information via email, please include your name, address, email address and phone number in the body of your email)
For the Williamsburg Police Department:
- Maj. Ashley Nichols
Email Maj. Nichols