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Augusta County wins top award in competition honoring worst in government transparency

Chris Graham
Augusta County
(© Rex Wholster – stock.adobe.com)

Augusta County has won a national award for its innovative efforts to use the Virginia Freedom of Information Act as a weapon to keep what should be public information under wraps.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock named Augusta County to its list of winners of the 2024 Foilies.

The Foilies honor, such as it is an honor, was bestowed in recognition of the attempt by Augusta County government employees to tag internal messages “NO FOIA” to try to circumvent public-records requests, and the ongoing push by county government to keep a recording of an illegally-held closed meeting of the Board of Supervisors from being released, in the face of a court order to turn over the recording.

“They still haven’t received the awarded records, and it’s possible that Augusta County will appeal. Still, it turned out that, thanks to the efforts of local journalists, their misguided attempt to conjure a culture of ‘NO FOIA’ in Augusta County actually brought them more scrutiny and accountability,” EFF and MuckRock reported.

The NO FOIA story involved a tip from a county employee to Breaking Through News about the “NO FOIA” tag, which prompted a public-records request.

The county withheld 88.4 percent of the 1,212 emails that were found to be responsive to the request, highlighting a major flaw in FOIA law – if the government decides not to comply, your recourse is to take them to court, and as we’ve seen in the case involving the illegal March 20, 2023, closed meeting, even a court order isn’t enough to get a government body that doesn’t want to comply to comply.

Quick update on the closed meeting recording issue: it’s still in limbo, frustratingly.

But it’s not like the stonewalling is going unnoticed.

The EFF and MuckRock listed Augusta County as the top winner in its 2024 Foilies.

Somebody should print a banner: We’re #1!

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].