“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.” — West Virginia Code § 29B-1-1.
The Corporation of Harpers Ferry (“the Town”) is committed to transparency in government.
The West Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 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. It guarantees citizens of the State and representatives of the media access to public records held by public officers, governing bodies, agencies, departments, boards, commissions, committees, 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. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies as provided by W. Va. Code § 29B-1-4.
The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
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. Citizens may be charged a reasonable fee for the costs of copying. A citizen may ask any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance. If a citizen believes their FOIA rights have been violated, they may file a petition in circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA through injunctive or declaratory relief.
Records may be requested by postal mail, fax, email, in person, or by telephone. There is no requirement that the request be in writing, and the requester does not have to refer to FOIA in order to request documents. However, whenever possible, a written request is advisable to ensure there is a clear statement of the types of records and information being requested and to reduce the potential for misunderstanding the request. Note: For clarity and to ensure all required information is included, it is advised that written requests be submitted on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request Form.
The request must identify the records the citizen is seeking “with reasonable specificity” as required by W. Va. Code § 29B-1-3(d). This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records. The request must be specific enough for the records to be identified and located.
Requests must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA allows existing records to be inspected or copied. If a record does not exist, under FOIA, the Town is not required to create a 'new' record.
The Town may need to clarify the information being requested. Please include appropriate contact information in case the request for information needs clarification, the cost to provide the records is extensive, and/or to coordinate delivery of the documents.
The Town must respond to your request within five working days of receipt by either granting the request or giving written reasons for its denial. “Day One” is the day after the request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
The Town can request the requester's name and legal address. The requester is not required to state why the records are being sought.
Within the five-day response period, the Town is required to make one of the following responses:
The Town shall furnish proper and reasonable opportunities for inspection and examination of public records. It shall also provide reasonable facilities for making memoranda or abstracts therefrom, during the usual business hours, to all persons having occasion to make examination of them. The Town may make reasonable rules and regulations necessary for the protection of the records and to prevent interference with the regular discharge of its duties. If the records requested exist in magnetic, electronic, or computer form, the Town shall make such copies available on magnetic or electronic media, if so requested.
The Town may establish fees reasonably calculated to reimburse it for its actual cost in making reproductions of records. It may not charge a search or retrieval fee or otherwise seek reimbursement based on a man-hour basis as part of costs associated with making reproduction of records.
For clarity and to ensure all required information is included, it is advised that written requests be submitted on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request Form. Requests can be submitted by any of the following methods:
Corporation of Harpers Ferry
PO Box 217
Harpers Ferry WV 25425
(Note: The subject line should include at least the following: “FOIA Request”.)
Harpers Ferry Town Hall, 1000 Washington Street
The West Virginia Secretary of State maintains an electronic database of FOIA requests for all public bodies as required by W. Va. Code § 29B-1-3A. The database lists each FOIA request received and the outcome of the request. The Corporation of Harpers Ferry is enrolled in this database, and all new requests are entered. To access the Online FOIA Database, click here.
To view information requested from the Corporation of Harpers Ferry by FOIA since 1 July 2019, click here.