Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Delegate Keam quoted in Richmond Times Dispatch


Delegate Keam talks about House Bill 778, the bill he and Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-67th District) tried to push through the General Assembly this year to require all votes be published online under the Member's name. The House passed the bill overwhelmingly but the Senate killed it in committee.

http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/state_regional/article/SLAW15_20100314-220004/330410/

FOI council helps public with open government act

By Michael Martz

Published: March 15, 2010

It won't get any easier this year for the public to scrutinize the voting records of General Assembly members, but that's not because Del. Mark L. Keam, D-Fairfax, and 19 other new legislators didn't try.

Keam was part of the "Freshman Initiative," an effort by first-year leg-islators to make the assembly's Web site easier to use to track votes from subcommittees to the chamber floor. The proposal was carried over a year by a Senate committee, but the new legislators say they are laying down a bipartisan marker to help the public hold elected officials accountable.

"We made a pact that on anything involving transparency, government efficiency or accountability, we will vote together," he told Maria J.K. Everett during a reception Thursday to kick off Sunshine Week at the General Assembly.

Keam was preaching to the choir. Everett is executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, a 10-year-old panel that helps people understand, apply and obey state laws that make government records and actions open to the people.

Everett worked as staff attorney on the two-year study that led to the panel's creation in 2000. Now, she and staff attorney Alan Gernhardt answer about 1,700 e-mails and phone messages each year from people who want help in understanding the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

A few questions come from the news media, but most come from the public or government officials who are required to comply with the law.

"They're the ones who have the most to lose," Gernhardt said.

Everett conducts about 60 training sessions a year across Virginia to explain how the law works and what governments must do to obey it.

"We think the training part is most important," she said. "The mistakes I see being made are from ignorance, not from malfeasance."

The council also creates a forum that brings together legislators and the attorney general's office, local government officials and the news media, lawyers, librarians and citizens to talk about potential legislation that would affect the Freedom of Information Act.

"It gives us an opportunity to present our case to a panel that understands the law," said Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association. "We don't always get our way, but it's fair."

Contact Michael Martz at (804) 649-6964 or mmartz@timesdispatch.com.

Related Info

Free information

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is a resource for residents, government and the news media in answering questions about the law. Here's how to reach the council:

Phone: toll-free, (866) 448-4100, or (804) 225-3056

E-mail: foiacouncil@dls.virginia.gov , Executive Director Maria J.K. Everett or staff attorney Alan Gernhardt

Address: 910 Capitol St., second floor, General Assembly Building, Richmond, VA 23219

Online: foiacouncil.dls.virginia.gov

SOURCE: Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

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