Caroline County government: We don’t have to tell you where your money is being spent.

Here’s a copy of an e-mail that I sent to County Administrator Percy Ashcraft on September 25th:

Dear Mr. Ashcraft,

What was the total cost of adopting the ordinances that vacated Saddlehorse Farms and the other subdivision owned by the Farmers?

This request for information includes, but is not limited to: the cost for advertising the public hearing, any cost for legal services by the county attorney (not asking for the privileged work of the county attorney, just the cost), as well as the waiver of fees to the Farmers for the Planning Commission hearings that had to be conducted.

When will the county be taking action against the other six (or more) subdivisions that were identified to also be in violation of the subdivision code? Surely the Board does not intend to selectively and vindictively prosecute one person.

-Tim

Here’s the response I received from the county attorney, Benjamin Emerson, via snail mail today [emphasis mine] (PDF link):

Dear Mr. Watson:

As I believe you are aware, this firm and I represent Caroline County as its County Attorneys. Your e-mailed request for information to Mr. Ashcraft was referred to me for response as a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).

Your e-mail inquires as to the cost of adopting certain ordinances vacating the Saddlehorse Farms subdivision and other subdivisions being developed by the Farmers, and includes other questions.

Among other things and with certain exceptions and limitations, FOIA requires that public records of public bodies be open and made available to citizens of the Commonwealth for inspection upon request being made for such records with reasonable specificity. It does not require the public body to compile records, to create records that do not exist, or to respond to questions in general that are not requests for specific documents or existing records.

Because your inquiry consists of questions to which you have requested answers, it is not subject to FOIA.

Sincerely,

[signed]

Benjamin W. Emerson

Well, the county just managed to get their butts sued over this issue.

And for the record, anyone think that payments made to The Caroline Progress aren’t public records?

I guess the judge in Caroline County General District Court will be deciding that.

6 Comments

  1. william e. sparks says:

    Ok,

    Then maybe we should remind Mr. Ashcraft that he serves at the pleasure of the board and we the citizens elect the bos:)I remember when my dad was the county administrator of the county.I’m not surprised the county attorney answered you in this way.He is the county attorney and not my attorney or yours.But, thank god we can still vote!Good job Tim, atleast THEY know we are watching and thinking.

  2. Tom James says:

    Get’em Tim!

    Enough corruption in Caroline clean it out and kick them out!

  3. Maverick says:

    Well… I hate to be siding with the folks that didn’t give you the information you are looking for… but they do have a point. You didn’t ask for any records, you asked for consolidated information which the FOI Act does not include. Try requesting the actual documents that the information you want would be on (legal bills, waiver forms, etc) and you should get somewhere.

    Congratulations on taking part in the open records debate – I hope many more citizens follow your lead!

  4. Note the second paragraph:

    This request for information includes, but is not limited to: the cost for advertising the public hearing, any cost for legal services by the county attorney (not asking for the privileged work of the county attorney, just the cost), as well as the waiver of fees to the Farmers for the Planning Commission hearings that had to be conducted.

    The request for records was done with “reasonable specificity”.

  5. Maverick says:

    Perhaps we will have to disagree. Your request sounds very vague to me (and apparently to Benjamin W. Emerson too!). I would expect a range of dates or a mention of a type of document at the least to meet “reasonable specificity”. Best of luck!

  6. They know the date range: all this has occurred in the last three or four months after the Board decided to adopt an emergency ordinance vacating several subdivisions.

    I don’t have to say, “I want a copy of check #1380934 which was used to pay for advertisement for a public hearing.” If I ask for the cost, they should send me a copy of the check or simply state the cost (therefore saving them the cost and time of copying a check and snail mailing it to me).

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