Buckingham registrar charges $200 ‘convenience fee’ in FOIA feud with county official

‘You have annoyed me for the last time’
Signs at a polling location in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020.
Signs at a polling location in Buckingham County, Va., November 3, 2020.(Parker Michels-Boyce, Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 3:45 PM EDT
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The newly appointed interim leader of Buckingham County’s election office recently derided a Democratic county supervisor’s Freedom of Information Act requests as “nonsense” and “ridiculous” while tacking on what he called a $200 “convenience fee” to a bill for public records.

Under state law, public officials are only allowed to charge for actual costs they incur for responding to FOIA requests, such as staff time spent searching for documents and the expense of printing hard copies.

“It’s absolutely not allowed under FOIA to have some sort of extra fee that is unrelated to the actual cost,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Late last month, Buckingham Supervisor Jordan Miles sent two FOIA requests to new General Registrar Luis Gutierrez, who was hired by Buckingham’s Republican-controlled Electoral Board.

Buckingham’s election office made national news a month ago when NBC News published an article revealing the county’s entire election staff had quit after Republicans took control of the Electoral Board in January. The staffers who left pointed to baseless voter fraud claims as a significant factor in their decisions.

In a pair of far-reaching records requests, Miles sought a variety of documents from the registrar, including minutes and meeting notices of the Electoral Board, several months’ worth of email correspondence among local election officials and information about the hiring process that led to Gutierrez getting the job in mid-April. He also requested records on absentee ballots from the 2022 election, an inquiry Miles says was part of his efforts to debunk claims circulated by local conservatives that a significant number of absentee votes cast in the county were invalid.

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NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news...
NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.(Virginia Mercury)