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The FOIA audit: How we did it

West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act allows any person a right to inspector copy any public record of a public body in the state.Do public employees and officials readily offer citizens the “full and completeinformation” required under the law?To find out, the West Virginia Associated Press Managing Editors Associationconducted a statewide FOIA audit. The project was modeled on public recordsaudits conducted in other states by media organizations, state auditors andacademics.In West Virginia, news reporters from 12 newspapers and the AP visited each ofthe state’s 55 counties to assess FOIA compliance by county governments. The AP and the AP managing editors’ group brought together the various newsorganizations to do the work.Auditors asked for incident reports from sheriff’s departments, employmentcontracts from school superintendents, expense reports from county clerks and
operating budgets from county commissions.Today, AP member newspapers across the state are publishing the first results
of the audit. Coverage will continue through Wednesday in The CharlestonGazette.News reporters who did the auditing represented themselves as citizens, not asjournalists. They declined to give their names or why they wanted the records,
as such things are not required for disclosure under the law.Auditors tried to first obtain the records by simply asking for them. If theywere denied at first, they asked to speak to an office supervisor. If deniedagain, they filed a formal, written FOIA request.Terry Wimmer, Shott Chair of Journalism at West Virginia University,coordinated the audit, and analyzed the results for the news organizations.The news organizations that took part in the audit were the AP, the BeckleyRegister-Herald, the Bluefield Telegraph, the Charleston Daily Mail, TheCharleston Gazette, the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, the Elkins Inter-Mountain, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, the Martinsburg Journal, theMorgantown Dominion Post, the Parkersburg News, the Weirton Daily Times and theWheeling News Register.
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