Government Officials, Transparency, and Public Records

When the Roanoke Times filed an open-records request with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) (see story below), they received hundreds of pages of records and broke the story of the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources’ April 19, 2017 letter to Dominion advising them that attempts to sway state regulators would not be heeded. But there were significant omissions in the records the Roanoke Times received, records claimed as exemptions from public release under the State’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to the Roanoke Times, the governor’s office withheld about 20 records described as “working papers” and DEQ withheld “nine email chains,” both sets of records supposedly protected by executive or attorney-client privilege.

On June 26, 2017, Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) sent a request asking Governor Terry McAuliffe and Director Paylor of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to release the previously withheld public records pertaining to the State’s consideration of proposals to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The letter by David Sligh, DPMC Regulatory Systems Investigator, stated in part, “While DPMC recognizes that public bodies may withhold certain records that belong to the people of Virginia, under closely prescribed conditions, we also note that our public servants have the latitude to disclose those records in almost all situations…. Our government should not seek shelter from public view based merely on convenient exemptions in the law. As the FOIA commands, its provisions ‘shall be liberally construed to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government.’ Code of Virginia § 2.2-370”

DPMC cited examples of the McAuliffe administration’s actions over the last two years in which the State’s promises of transparent processes have been betrayed and the public’s trust tested, stating “only through total transparency and complete honesty can this administration restore confidence in the regulatory processes for these pipelines.”