STATUTE - FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
§ 29B-1-1. Declaration of policy.
Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government which holds to the principle that government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state of West Virginia that all persons are, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government they have created. To that end, the provisions of this article shall be liberally construed with the view of carrying out the above declaration of public policy.
The full Statute may be viewed by visiting the WV Legislature’s website at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/WVCODE/Code.cfm.
** Information noted below provided courtesy of the WV State Attorney General’s Office **
The State statute on public records, known as the Freedom of Information Act, was enacted for the express purpose of providing full and complete information to all persons about the workings of government and the acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees, so that the people may be informed and retain control. Its provisions must be liberally construed to carry out that purpose.
The Act applies to all State, county and municipal officers, governing bodies, agencies, departments, boards and commissions, and any other bodies created or primarily funded by State or local authority, unless their enabling statute specifically exempts them from its provisions. The records covered by the Act include virtually all documents and information retained by a public body, regardless of their form.
Public records are available to every person for inspection or copying when there has been a request made to the custodian, and when they are not specifically exempted from disclosure. There is no statutory requirement that the request be in writing; however whenever possible, a written request is advisable in order to avoid misunderstandings regarding the timing and scope of the request, and to ensure that the information sought is stated "with reasonable specificity," as required by W. Va. Code § 29B-1-3(4). The custodian must respond within five (5) working days by either granting the request or giving written reasons for its denial. Citizens may be charged a reasonable fee for the costs of copying.
HOW TO FILE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST IN WEST VIRGINIA
- Are you seeking information from a "public body" as defined by the Act? This includes any body which is created by or primarily funded by state or local authority.
- Is the information a "public record" under the Act? It must be "prepared, owned and retained by a public body."
- Who is the "custodian" of the record? In other words, whose record is it, and who is the elected or appointed administrator of that public body?
- Do you want to inspect or copy the record? There may be a charge for copies, while inspections may take place at their office during business hours.
Statutory guidelines: W. Va. Code § 29B-1-3 is basic authority.
- A request to inspect or copy a public record must be made directly to the custodian of the record.
- The request must state "with reasonable specificity" the information sought.
- There is no statutory requirement that the request be in writing; however a writing is helpful to prove that the request was made.
- Be sure you are asking the right person or department for the record. If possible, make a telephone call to find out who has the information you are seeking, and address your request to them.
- The request should be in writing, either hand delivered with a copy for the custodian to sign indicating date of receipt; sent by certified mail, return receipt requested; or by facsimile showing proof of receipt.
- Be as specific as possible. For example, don' t ask to see the records of all payments made by a public body, if you are only interested in payments to a specific individual or company.
- State in the request whether you w ant to inspect or copy the record(s). If you are not sure, ask for a time and place where you can review them, and request copies of any that you want to keep then. If you want copies, ask how much they will cost.
- Remind the custodian that they have five (5) business days to respond to your request.
- Provide a telephone number where you may be reached during business hours, in case they have questions or need additional information from you.
- No such record exists. A public body is under no obligation to create a document that contains the information you seek. However, they may be able to produce one if you are willing to pay for it (including programming and personnel costs).
- Request was made of the wrong person or public body. The person responding to your request does not have to tell you where you can obtain the information you seek, even if he or she knows. You should ask for this information, if you are not sure you are requesting the records from the right person or public body.
- No response. If you do not receive an answer within three working days after the statutory time period has run, follow up on your request, in writing. Remind them of the civil and criminal enforcement provisions of the statute should they fail to provide you with a timely answer.
- Request is refused under a claimed statutory exemption from disclosure. If you do not agree that the exemption applies, ask for the name, address and telephone number of their attorney and contact him or her. If that fails, seek legal counsel to enforce the Freedom of Information Act in the circuit court of the county where the record is kept.