Showing posts with label FOIA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FOIA. Show all posts

Monday, March 13, 2017

Gloucester County, Virginia FY 2018 Budget Process; Get Involved!!

Image result for chuck thompson gloucester va. library photos
The Gloucester Board of Supervisors has now started contemplating how they will allow our local government to spend your tax dollars next year. The County Administrator is recommending a one and a half cent real estate tax increase which is the amount of increase the BOS approved last year. If the BOS follow the Administrator’s recommendation, the real estate tax rate will increase from to 69.5 to 71 cents per $100 of assessed value.

There is a small minority of people in Gloucester who, for one personal cause or another, want the real estate tax rate to increase significantly. Like I have many times in the past; I suggest those folks donate as much as they want to their causes and passions, but leave the rest of us out of it. The typical response to my suggestion is something along the lines of them not trusting that their donated money will be used for their cause. What sense does that make?

The majority of people in Gloucester do not want real estate taxes increased at all. I am one of those folks and believe there should be no further tax increases until our local government makes all money matters completely transparent to the public, eliminates all unnecessary spending, consolidates services with our school system, eliminates redundant and unnecessary services and establishes a detailed plan that quantifies and addresses our numerous and neglected infrastructure needs.

Over the last several years there have been efforts by a handful of us to encourage the BOS to put in place measures and policies that will enhance transparency in our local government. When the current BOS evolved through the addition of three board members who are up for reelection this November, they appeared to take significant steps towards making the County’s financial matters more open to the people. After a little over three years, the steps that were initially made have mostly been erased and we are now left with abandoned efforts and broken promises.

During the BOS budget deliberations last year; I pointed out several things our local government spends money on that are a complete waste of tax dollars. The most ludicrous of these expenditures is the amount of tax dollars they throw away on renting our public library and local health department spaces. In my opinion; the rental agreement for the courthouse library and health department space was created as an unethical backdoor funding mechanism to financially empower the Main Street Gloucester Preservation Trust. The taxpayers of Gloucester have and continue to be forced to provide money to this “not for profit” non-government organization that has taken control of the courthouse area of the county and the current BOS treats them just as good as prior boards did. The logical thing to do is close the Hayes library until a building can be purchased or built to replace it. All money currently budgeted to that library should be placed in a separate account to go towards buying our way out of the current lease agreement and towards building or buying the necessary library space. Money should be borrowed to build a new main library on the property where Page Middle School is located and to build new health department space in the Gloucester business park where Sentara and the free clinic are located. The Commonwealth rents the health department space from Gloucester County, so those rent payments will ultimately pay to build the building and will eventually turn into a revenue stream. All tolled our local government is throwing away in the neighborhood of a half million dollars annually by not owning our own library and health department spaces.

I also pointed out that almost a half million dollars is being wasted yearly on the community education department. Instead of breaking up this department and returning all of its functions to the school system, social services, information technology and county administration departments; our local government doubled down by giving the director a nice raise and by changing the name of the department to the department of community engagement. This department pays multiple people to manage community use of our public school facilities. Each one of these people receives a salary and benefits that are paid for with tax dollars. I suggested having each school’s administration office re-assume these responsibilities utilizing current school system employees and teachers. Even if we need to pay a few employees and teachers a little more money to perform this function after school, we will still save a significant amount on salaries and benefits by not having the extra employees. Social Services is the governmental department that is supposed to provide assistance to those in the community who are in need. The community engagement department facilitates and supports various non-profit, non-government organizations that should be supported and facilitated by our local social services department. If someone is in need, social services should be the one stop place to go to connect with available government and community resources. There was no need to create a special department to do this. Community engagement also responds to Freedom of Information Act requests for information and publishes the Beehive and the Weekly Town Crier. These functions and all other media and public affairs type functions should become a joint effort between county administration and information technology. There is no need to pay a director over $100,000 plus benefits yearly to manage these functions.

Gloucester’s animal control department spends most of its time patrolling the roads throughout the county. Last year I suggested ending the patrolling and turning animal control into a strictly reactionary department. If someone has a concern about an animal issue they will call. We certainly do not need to be paying employees to visit the public beach under the bridge and the York River Yacht Haven pool at Gloucester Point multiple times a day; or to hang out and shoot the breeze in various local stores. I also suggested routing all animal control dispatch calls through the Sheriff’s department and to limit the number of full time animal control employees to two. These changes should result in significant tax dollar savings and improve animal control’s relationship with the overall community.

These are just a few examples of the unnecessary and costly ways our local government frivolously spends our tax dollars. Consolidating county and school system functions is another way that Gloucester can significantly cut costs and enhance service. We will soon share what our BOS and School Board have done about consolidation over the last three years.

We have provided other information pertaining to Gloucester’s lease agreements, budget and real estate tax rates at the end of this article. Be sure to check it all out.

We encourage all Gloucester residents, landowners and business owners to actively follow our elected and employed local government representatives and administrators, and hold them accountable for their actions. Remember, all levels of government work for We The People.

Let us know what you think and share your comments and Gloucester government related stories by emailing us at or by posting remarks on the Facebook post that led you here.

Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.
Gloucester Point, Virginia
Helping To Drain The Swamp

The following are current real estate tax rates:
Gloucester……….69.5 cents per $100 of assessed value
Mathews…………54 cents per $100 of assessed value
New Kent………..83 cents per $100 of assessed value
West Point………72 cents per $100 of assessed value
York……………..75.15 cents per $100.00 of assessed value
Williamsburg…….57 cents per $100 of assessed value
Newport News…..1 dollar and 22 cents per $100 of assessed value
Hampton………...1 dollar and 24 cents per $100 of assessed value

Gloucester’s Proposed FY18 Budget Presentation:

Gloucester’s FY 2017 Budget:
View this slide share to see Gloucester’s library, health department and other lease agreements: 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gloucester, VA FOIA Fraud?

Watch the above video all the way through if you can, it's about 4 hours long, but to make a long story short, we were at this meeting and we watched everything going on during the entire meeting.  Here is what we sent to Mr Chriscoe, Board of Supervisor member at large.

"Mr Chriscoe:  We are going to FIOA your text messages made and received during the BoS meeting.  We not only saw what you were doing, we also heard your phone going off numerous times.  Thought there was a policy passed last year that prohibited this.  Since it was done during a BoS meeting, it becomes BoS business.  May we suggest you refrain from this in the future?"

A response from Mr Chriscoe;

My phone did not go off during the meeting.  I did receive a text during the meeting, not pertaining to county business.  I also used my phone as a calculator during a portion of the meeting.  I do not send texts during meetings of any kind they are sent automatically by the meeting setting on my phone.

Thank you for the interest in what I do.  Sorry to disappoint.


Ashley Chriscoe

Board of Supervisors

Our Response;

" All we can do is go by what we see and hear.  Your phone seemed to have beeped numerous times during the meeting.  Also, your claim that you were making calculations is of concern as you did not bring up any numbers during the meeting that would release you of such a claim.  May we point out that appearance should always be a concern that must be taken into consideration at all times during a Board meeting.  Also, conversations with numerous people after the meeting, the consensus was unanimous, that the appearance was you were texting during the meeting.  

  We are not trying to be offensive to you.  We are showing you what we are seeing and are simply asking for transparency.  Please go back and review the meeting video and take an honest look at yourself and ask what it is that everyone else is seeing."

Again Mr Chriscoe Responds;

I understand your point.  My harshest critic watches all of the meetings.  And at no time did my mom say anything about my phone.  She says I am an on it all the time and she made no mention of it.  I do keep my phone silenced and if I do get a text I get a green light that blinks.  My mother is a widow and I have two kids at home.  If something happens to one of them someone can always get a hold of me.  At our next meeting if you are there I will show you the feature I use so that the phone does not vibrate or make a sound.  I apologize if it looked like I was using my phone. 

I did have to use my iPad during the meting because the laptop on the counter quit working prior to the meeting.  

Thanks for watching.  Keep pointing these things out.  They are helpful.


Ashley Chriscoe

Board of Supervisors"

There is an old saying that we have adopted here.  Trust but verify.  So as we stated, we did a FOIA request for any and all text messages.  It went like this.

"Hello Christie;

  Attached is a PDF formal FOIA request for information regarding any and all text messages sent and or received by Ashley Chriscoe during the July 1st, 2014 Board of Supervisor's meeting between the hours of 7:00 PM and 11:00 PM.  As always, thank you for everything that you do."

The response back from Christie Lewis is as follows.

I am in receipt of your attached FOIA request as emailed and received on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 for “ digital copies of any and all text messages of Ashley Chriscoe during the July 1st, 2014 Board of Supervisor's meeting between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.” 

Mr. Chriscoe has indicated that he reviewed all text messages and only one text message was received and one was sent through automatic response during the timeframe specified.  These texts were not related to public business and do not constitute public records as defined under “Public Records” in the Code of Virginia § 2.2-3701.

FOIA provisions allow a locality to charge a reasonable fee to access and search for requested records.  Total time being charged for this request is 45 minutes at a rate of $15 per hour for a total charge of $11.25.  Please remit payment by check made payable to the “County of Gloucester” for the total amount and mail to Gloucester Community Education, P.O. Box 1306, Gloucester, VA 23061 or you may bring payment in person to our office.  We ask that you call ahead to 693-5730 to ensure staff is available to receive payment.  We are unable to make change, so we ask to please bring the exact amount if paying in person.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance to you.


Christi Lewis
Community Education Director

We asked for a justification of the above expense as Mr Chriscoe had already went through his text messages prior to the request.  How can he have possibly spent one hour once again reviewing his messages and why would it take anyone so long?  Also, let's look at the facts.  Christie Lewis only asked Mr Chriscoe for any digital copies of any text messages that he may have sent or received during the time frame in question.  She did not search any phone records to verify anything.  She simply asked him for any records.  So we have no idea whether or not he is even telling the truth.  

  Second.  Christie Lewis asks Mr Chriscoe how much time he spent searching his phone records and just goes along with that.  No verification on time spent here either and all this after Mr Chriscoe already told me the same story prior to the FOIA request.  Does anyone wonder why we question the integrity of local government officials?  Here is more of the conversation.

Another email to us from Christie Lewis;

"Mr. Chriscoe indicated he spent approximately one hour reviewing and responding to your request.  The county guideline is to provide a courtesy 15 minutes of response time so we billed for 45 minutes at the clerical rate of $15 per hour."

Our response to this is as follows:

"Please ask Mr Chriscoe to justify his time spent going through his cell phone for one hour after having already provided information on such prior to said request."

Again, we were at the meeting and kept hearing cell phone tones that would indicate a message came in on someone's phone during the meeting and it was coming from the front of the meeting room.  Mr Chriscoe had his head down and looking at something in front of him throughout a great deal of the 4 hour meeting.  It looked as though he was in fact texting.  We tried to work with county officials to clear all of this up, but there has been no response to us from the last email we sent asking Mr Chriscoe to justify his time spent looking through his cell phone messages or was that possibly deleting his cell phone messages?  We are presently looking into potential fraud on this.  This is not what we expect nor is it what anyone should expect of any county officials at any time.  It's disgraceful.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

CDC Knew Autism Link to Mercury in Vaccines

English: Logo of the Centers for Disease Contr...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After 10 years and 100 FOIA requests, Dr. Brian Hooker has uncovered documentary evidence that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) knew of the link between Thimerosal in vaccines and the exponential increase in autism.

Our Notes:  We are usually not fans of Alex Jones as most of the stuff that comes from this source is usually not fit for wasting one's time.  Every now and again though, these folks actually do report on something factual and get it right.  This is one we happen to agree with and have known about for years.  
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ted Wilmot Explains FOIA Meetings Policies and Proceedures

You want to turn the volume up on your speakers as well as on the video itself to watch this and hear it properly.  Ted Wilmot and Brenda Garton actually do a decent job of explaining FOIA meetings to the Board of Supervisors.  5 stars to Ted on this one.  He actually acted like an attorney.  (Guess we can't beat him up on this one).  Some dirty little secrets get revealed in this meeting.  Watch and listen closely.  Mr Bazzani, please turn your microphone on when speaking.  Thank you.  Found some other interesting information on the Agenda that we will be sharing soon.
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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Gloucester, VA School Officials Respond To Use Of Private Email Accounts

We have several responses from Gloucester County, Virginia School  officials about using private email accounts along with their county supplied email accounts.  We also have the input from Twitching Ted, (I'm not an attorney) Wilmot, Gloucester County attorney, (Court Jester, Yeah we can do that even if the law says no).

  From, ""

I do use an account that I have at my home so I do not have to check multiple accounts and possibly miss someone’s concern. The email account is always subject to FOIA and I am aware of that and will always abide by the rule. Also it is advertised and an account and address that I can be reached and there is nothing being hidden.
Thank you

Randy Burak"

Wait, he uses a personal email account so he does not miss someone's concern?  He has a county supplied email account but does not want to have to check multiple accounts?  Is he telling us that he just ignore's the county supplied email account?  If you try and contact him using that account it will never get answered because he can't be bothered with it?  Or is he telling us a bed time fantasy story hoping we do not question it?  And remember, there is nothing being hidden because he told you so.  Okay there George.  Didn't Bill Clinton tell us he did not have sex with that woman?  What did we learn later?  He had sex with that woman?  

Thank you for your e-mail.

There is nothing in the advisory opinion above that requires a particular type of e-mail account be used in order to comply withFOIA. The opinion defines e-mail as  a medium for correspondence -- essentially, e-mail is the "envelope" for the communication.

E-mails concerning public business are subject to FOIA requests as public records regardless of whether the account is one supplied by a governmental entity or not. This has always been the case and continues to be so. 

The fact that a communication is sent via e-mail is not alone conclusive of whether that e-mail must be accessible to the public under FOIA or retained pursuant to the PRA; one must look at the text and substance of the communication to determine whether it is indeed a public record. … an e-mail relating to public business would be accessible just like any other public record,

Personal e-mails are not subject to FOIA because by their nature they have nothing to do with public business.   OUR NOTE (  Did she really just talk from both sides?  Then why use them in the manner you are?)

The opinion above does state that Public officials and employees should not commingle personal and official e-mails.Private e-mails do not need to be retained; e-mails relating to the transaction of public business do. From an e-mail management perspective, it is probably not a good idea to mix personal and official business in the same e-mail. 

However, this means that in a single e-mail message you should not combine personal information with public business. It is silent as to types of e-mail accounts. 
I do not believe that the use of a gmail account or any other type of account is a violation of FOIA or any other law.

Thank you for your concern.


Kim Hensley
SB Representative, Ware District"

Before we comment let's look at what Twitch sent.

"I assume that the Gloucester County School Board functions within the letter of FOIA. To my knowledge, that is the case. I’m not quite sure what you mean by the “spirit” of the law/FOIA, though I’ve heard that phrase before. I do not know the answer to your question whether “the private email accounts used by school officials and employees [were] included in the search parameters for relevant response information,”, as I do not have the records, did not create them, and did not provide records to you. You may want to check with school officials. Also, just an FYI, I do not favor correspondence via email, perhaps in part for the very concern you mention. So if you would like to correspond with me in the future, you are welcome to do so via U.S. mail. Or, if necessary or appropriate, I would be willing to meet with you in my office. Thank you.

Ted Wilmot "  (If you meet with him, bring a voice recorder).

Now let's see if we can idiot proof exactly what we are talking about so that even those that sit in the Ivory Towers may understand the issues.

If you are assigned a county email account, all county business as it relates to your job should be used and one should not have a second email address being used to also conduct government business.  If you do not wish to have a county supplied email address, you need to opt out and then ask that your own private email address be used and it should be attached to the county server so that should the county Administrator need access to it for any reason, the Administrator would have legal access.  

  The use of both a county email address and a private email address has the appearance of corruption.  If the appearance is there, then you can usually rest assured that the corruption is equally there.  

  To cover this matter in more detail, Keith Hodges uses a gmail email account to conduct state business in place of a state assigned email address.  This is acceptable as he is not hiding anything by using multiple email addresses.  He is straight up front with the use of a private email address in place of a state assigned email address.  There is no appearance of corruption.  

  Using both a county assigned email address and private and in some cases multiple private email addresses in conducting county business is seen as hiding something and we are willing to bet that some of these officials who are using multiple email addresses along with a county assigned email address are up to no good.  This is why you do not do this.  

  The majority of the email addresses that are supposed to be private but have been found being used to conduct government business are the one's we keep publishing as they have county assigned email addresses.  So it is clear that information is probably being hidden from the public as well as other county officials who might have legal reasons to access those accounts.

  The reason there is no law against government officials being able to use private email addresses comes into play like stated above in Keith Hodge's example.  You can opt out of the government assigned email address system, but still need it open and accessible when those above you deem legal need to access such.  Do not mingle both personal email with business email.  If you do, then your personal email should become public record the same as business email by default because you choose to intermingle the two.  Either use your county assigned email address or opt out.  Do not use multiple email addresses.  Is that simple enough?

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Government Officials And Employees Use of Personal Emails Updated

To Whom It May Concern:
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, (A state agency with the expertise to help resolve disputes over Freedom of Information issues) the Virginia Public Records Act (PRA) and the Code of Virginia do not allow, support or condone the use of private email accounts to conduct government business.  The following is the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council’s opinion on email communications.  This opinion is basically the Commonwealth’s adopted legal opinion on the use, access and retention of email communications as pertains to government use. 
The use of e-mail in the business place has become routine and is a preferred mode of communication. For state and local government officials and employees, the application of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) relating to access to records and the Virginia Public Records Act (the PRA) relating to the retention of records comes into play.
Government officials and employees frequently ask two key questions about the use of e-mail --"Can the public and media access my e-mail under FOIA?" and "Do I have to save my e-mail?"
This document will attempt to answer these questions and provide guidance about the use and management of e-mail by state and local government.
The nature of e-mail
E-mail generally refers to any communication that requires an electronic device for storage and/or transmission.1 E-mail is a medium for correspondence -- essentially, e-mail is the "envelope" for the communication. For purposes of FOIA & the PRA, e-mail provides a medium for communication, much like a telephone or the U.S. Mail provides a means of communication. The fact that a communication is sent via e-mail is not alone conclusive of whether that e-mail must be accessible to the public under FOIA or retained pursuant to the PRA; one must look at the text and substance of the communication to determine whether it is indeed a public record.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act
FOIA addresses access to public records. Section 2.2-3701 of the Code of Virginia defines public records for purposes of FOIA to include "all writings and recordings that consist of letters, words or numbers, or their equivalent, set down by handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photography, magnetic impulse, optical or magneto-optical form, mechanical or electronic recording or other form of data compilation, however stored, regardless of physical form or characteristics, prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business."
Clearly an e-mail would fall under this broad definition of a public record, because it applies to all writings and recordings…set down by…mechanical or electronic recording…however stored, regardless of physical form or characteristics. As noted above, e-mail is just the medium, or the envelope, used to convey the communication. Just as a letter sent via U.S. Mail from one public official to another concerning public business would be a public record under FOIA, so would that same communication sent via e-mail.
FOIA requires that unless subject to a statutory exemption, all public records must be open to inspection and copying. Therefore, an e-mail relating to public business would be accessible just like any other public record, and may be withheld from public disclosure only if a particular exemption applies to the content of the e-mail.
The Virginia Public Records Act
While FOIA governs access to records held by state and local government, the PRA governs how long a government entity must retain certain records. The PRA defines "public record" for purposes of records retention, and like FOIA, the definition is fairly broad and would include e-mail as a public record. Section 42.1-77 defines a public record to include recorded information that documents a transaction or activity by or with any public officer, agency or employee of the state government or its political subdivisions. Regardless of physical form or characteristic, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business.
The PRA sets forth different retention schedules for different types of records. Several factors shape how long a record needs to be held. Many records are only kept for so long as business requires them to be kept, although if a record has historical significance or is created by an agency head or director, it may need to be kept longer. For example, certain records are required to be maintained permanently, such as records from standing committees of the General Assembly, annual reports of state agencies, and correspondence of agency directors. Other records need only be kept so long as they are administratively necessary, such as reminders of events like blood drives or fund raisers, courtesy copies of correspondence, or messages received from a listserv. Along the continuum, other records may be required to be retained for 30 days to ten years, depending on their content. After the retention time has expired for a particular document, then that record may be destroyed pursuant to the guidelines set forth by the Library of Virginia.2

2 PRA is administered by the Library of Virginia. For more details on retention schedules for particular types of records or for a particular agency, or for information regarding the proper disposal of records, please contact the Library of Virginia. Records retention information and contact information is also available on the Library's website at
In providing guidance for adhering to the PRA, the Library of Virginia notes that e-mail should be treated the same as paper correspondence. Again, e-mail is only the medium, or the envelope, by which the correspondence is sent; the retention schedule for a particular e-mail will depend on its content and should be preserved the same as its paper equivalent. Both incoming and outgoing e-mail should be retained, along with any attachments sent via e-mail.
Tips for using and managing e-mail
All e-mails related to public business are subject to the provisions of FOIA and the PRA, and should be managed in the same manner as all other public records.
There is a tendency with e-mail to hit the delete button as soon as you are finished with a particular message. However, consideration must be given to whether that particular e-mail must be retained for purposes of the PRA -- you can't automatically delete your e-mail, just as you can't automatically throw away paper correspondence and records.
FOIA governs access to records. The PRA dictates how long you are required to keep certain records. If a government entity keeps an e-mail (or any other record) for longer than its retention schedule requires, that e-mail will still be subject to FOIA if requested. Conversely, if a government entity properly disposes of a record pursuant to a retention schedule, and a subsequent FOIA request is made for that record, FOIA does not require the government entity to recreate the record.
E-mail is often used as a substitute for a telephone call, and is quite informal. However, e-mail creates a record of that communication that must be retained pursuant to the PRA and will be available upon request to the public under FOIA. Consider the consequence of choice to use e-mail instead of the telephone -- it may not be in your best interest to be as informal on e-mail as you are on the telephone.
The Library of Virginia discourages the practice of maintaining permanent records solely in electronic format, without a paper or microfilm backup.3 For records that do not need to be maintained permanently, these e-mails can be printed out and stored in a traditional, paper file (and the electronic copy can be deleted) or electronic folders can be created on the computer to organize e-mails based on functions, subjects or activities. The Library of Virginia suggests that these folders are assigned to your home directory on the computer, and not on the network. By way of example, at the FOIA Council we print a copy of all of the FOIA questions that we receive via e-mail, along with our corresponding response, and file the paper copy in a chronological file. After we have printed a copy to retain for our records, we delete the e-mail off of the computer.
Public officials and employees should not commingle personal and official e-mails. Private e-mails do not need to be retained; e-mails relating to the transaction of public business do. From an e-mail management perspective, it is probably not a good idea to mix personal and official business in the same e-mail. Official e-mails that need to be retained should be maintained with other public records that relate to the same content.
As is clearly evident; the Commonwealth of Virginia does have established guidance pertaining to the use of private email to conduct government business by elected officials and government employees. 
A look at email addresses for Gloucester County Supervisors on the Gloucester County website will reveal each Supervisor having there own county government email address.  A look at the Gloucester County Public Schools website will reveal six of the seven Gloucester County School Board members list private email addresses.  FOIA obtained Gloucester County Public Schools email conversations contain email conversations that either originated from, were sent to, forwarded to or carbon copied to private email addresses belonging to Gloucester County School Board members and school administration personnel.
The following are private email addresses of officials and employees within the Gloucester Public School System that have been identified thus far as using non-Gloucester County government email accounts to conduct government business or to send government business to.

Betty Jane Duncan…
Ben Kiser…  AND
Ben Kiser…
Diane Gamache…
Charles Records…
Ann Burruss…
Carla Hook…
Kevin Smith…   AND  
Kevin Smith…
Kimberly Hensley…
Randy Burack… 
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