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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

Augusta County Wins FOIA Follies Award Over Use of "No FOIA" Tag to Hide Emails

Written by: Sam Orlando

AUGUSTA COUNTY, VIRGINIA – The spotlight's on Augusta County, Virginia, this award season, but not for any blockbuster achievements. In the world of government transparency—or the lack thereof—Augusta County has snagged the limelight with its avant-garde approach to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), earning itself a Foilie for an imaginative yet futile attempt to defy public records law with the spellbinding incantation: "NO FOIA."

Casting Spells on Transparency: Augusta's Enchanted Emails

In a bold move that might make even Merlin facepalm, Augusta County officials discovered what they believed to be the Philosopher's Stone of public records law: tagging emails with "NO FOIA" to make them disappear from public accountability. This groundbreaking discovery was short-lived, however, as Breaking Through News, armed with nothing but a FOIA request and a healthy dose of reality, decided to test the county's magic. Spoiler alert: reality won. The county conceded and released a fraction of the requested emails, unveiling not dragons or dark secrets, but mundane realities of salaries and office grievances—proving that "NO FOIA" was less an invisibility cloak and more a neon sign screaming for attention.

The Plot Thickens: From Legal Battles to Public Theater

As any good drama unfolds, Breaking Through News and Augusta Free Press took the county to court over its refusal to release recordings of executive sessions, perhaps entered as illegally as burglars in the night. The courts, serving as the referees of reality, ruled in favor of transparency. Yet, the saga may not be over, leaving us all on the edge of our seats for a potential appeal. Will Augusta County take the stage for a second act, or will they bow out gracefully? Time will tell.

A Salute to the Supporting Cast: Other Foilies' Stars

While Augusta County played the lead in this tragicomedy, let's not forget the ensemble cast that brought their own flavor of absurdity to the stage:

  • Richlands, Virginia, whipped up a "Poop and Pasta Award" with a culinary retaliation against transparency, proving that when it comes to public records, some prefer their responses served cold, with a side of spaghetti. In this case, one unlucky FOIA requester found her mailbox stuffed full of spaghetti and manure.

  • FOIAonline, snagged the "Error 404 Transparency Not Found Award" for transforming federal transparency into a ghost town of digital despair. An ambitious project turned into a deserted digital landscape, where documents go to die and requesters wander in search of answers.

  • Pennridge School District in Pennsylvania dazzled with the "Literary Judicial Thrashing of the Year Award," a saga involving hidden books and judicial quips that would make Shakespeare chuckle in his grave.

  • And let's not overlook the Los Angeles Police Department, which won the "Photographic Recall Award" for its attempt to erase history and headshots from the collective memory, in a move that might make Orwell nod in grim acknowledgment.

The Moral of Our Story: A Beacon of Hope (and Sarcasm)

In a world where "NO FOIA" is seen as a viable strategy and pasta is used as a weapon, the Foilies remind us of the vital role that journalists, activists, and everyday citizens play in holding the government accountable. This year's awards showcase a mosaic of creative yet concerning attempts to curtain transparency, emphasizing the ongoing battle for open government—a battle fought with determination, FOIA requests, and an indispensable sense of humor.

So, here's to Augusta County and its fellow Foilies recipients: may your future endeavors lean towards transparency and away from the comedic absurdity that brought us all together today. And to the rest of us: may we continue to wield our FOIA requests with the might of Excalibur, cutting through the obfuscation to reveal the truth lurking in the government's depths. After all, who knows what next year's Foilies will unearth in the quest for open government?

In the grand theatre of government transparency (or opacity, as the case may be), the Foilies are brought to us by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and MuckRock, two vanguards on the frontline of the information freedom battle. The EFF, a champion of digital rights, works tirelessly to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all the people of the internet. MuckRock, on the other hand, is a non-profit collaborative news site that gives individuals the power to request, analyze, and share government documents, making transparency more than just a buzzword.

Together, through a partnership with the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, these organizations compile the most jaw-dropping, head-scratching, and outright hilarious attempts by government entities to skirt around public records laws. The Foilies are not just awards but a rallying cry, highlighting the absurdities in government transparency efforts (or lack thereof) and celebrating the tireless work of journalists, activists, and curious citizens who demand sunlight in public affairs.

As we close the curtain on this year's Foilies, let's remember that each participant, from the audacious to the absurd, plays a crucial role in the ongoing dialogue about the importance of accessible, open government. In recognizing these efforts—sarcastic accolades and all—we not only hold our institutions accountable but also reinforce the foundation of a truly democratic society, where information is not just available but freely accessible to all.

So here's to the EFF, MuckRock, and all those who partake in the Foilies: may your endeavors continue to illuminate the dark corners of government secrecy and inspire a future where transparency is the norm, not the exception.

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