Freedom of Information Act Requests

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It is recommended that you submit your request in writing via the City's Online FOIA Request Portal below. Provide as much detail as possible so that we can fully understand what record(s) you are requesting. Your request must identify the records you are seeking with “reasonable specificity.” You must also include your legal name and address. Reasonable fees may be charged (not to exceed the actual costs incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for the requested information).All requests totaling $25 or more will be invoiced.



You may also submit a FOIA request by U.S. Mail, fax, in person, email or via phone.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), § 2.2-3700 through § 2.2-3714 of the Code of Virginia, is the primary state law governing citizen access to public records and entry to meetings of public bodies. The Virginia FOIA guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials , and public employees within five working days (unless an extension is invoked).

Your FOIA Rights

  • VA residents and media (with circulation or broadcasts in VA) have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records or both.
  • You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.

The FOIA Request

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires that public records be made available to citizens and the media for copying and/or inspection. FOIA refers to records that are in existence and does not require that the City of Winchester create records. The City of Winchester may abstract and summarize records by agreement with the requestor.  Agencies are under no obligation to extend the benefits of FOIA to requests to individuals and media bodies residing outside of Virginia.

A Public Record

A public record is a writing or recording, regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or in any other format that is owned or prepared by, or in the possession of, a public body or its officers, employees, or agents in the transaction of public business.

All public records are presumed to be open and may only be withheld if a specific statutory exemption applies. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.

FOIA requests do not need to include the word “FOIA,” but all requests must include the name and address of the requestor, and the request must be reasonably specific. The day after the FOIA Officer receives the request is considered the first day of the maximum five-working-day response period. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays:

  • Mail – If received by mail, the FOIA Officer will date stamp the letter. This stamp signifies the official date of receipt.
  • Email – The date that the FOIA Officer opens the email is the official date of receipt of the request.
  • Telephone and Walk-In – A “FOIA Request Form” is available should the requestor wish to complete it, or the staff person assisting the requestor may fill it out to help clarify the request. Note the City may not require the requestor to fill out a form if they choose not to do so.  In the event a requestor refuses to fill out a form, staff should do so on their behalf.  The form must include the date, the name and address of the requestor, and specific information about the public record that is being requested. A telephone number is very useful, yet, it is not required to be provided. **A “FOIA Request Form” may be substituted by an email that lists all required information as stated above.

Types of Records

The following is a general description of the types of records held by the City of Winchester:

  • Personnel records concerning employees and officials of the City
  • Records of contracts which the City has entered into 
  • City Council records, resolutions, and action items
  • Minutes of Council, Board, and Commission meetings
  • Police reports and records. Including but not limited to: incident/investigation reports, communication event reports, body-worn camera video, and dash cam video
    • NOTE: The Department of Motor Vehicles maintains the official record of all reportable crashes occurring within the Commonwealth. Crashes may be reported by law enforcement (FR300P), or an individual may also report a crash to DMV. DMV maintains the reports for a minimum of 36 months from the date of the crash. Sections 46.2-379 and 46.2-380 of the Code of Virginia control the release of data from the reports.
  • Police calls for service
  • 911 communication records
  • Fire & Rescue records
  • Zoning records
  • Permits and licenses
  • Public Works records such as stormwater and wetlands records 
  • Site plans and variances
  • Enforcement records
  • Building records 
  • Other records concerning the transaction of City business.

Please note that you may not be entitled to these records due to any exemptions that may apply.

If you are unsure whether the City has the record(s) you seek, please contact the respective FOIA Officer.

Public Meetings

All meetings of all public bodies, as defined in FOIA, as well as any meetings of their committees or sub-committees, are generally required to be open meetings, subject to certain exceptions spelled out in the Act. An open meeting is a meeting open to the members of the public.

Under FOIA, for there to be a "meeting" subject to the Act, there must be at least three members of the body, or a quorum of the public body if less than three, present for the purpose of discussing or transacting public business. A gathering of public employees is not a meeting under the Act.

During the course of a public meeting, a public body may go into a closed meeting to discuss certain specific types of matters set forth in FOIA. In order to do so, the public body must follow the specific procedures set forth in VFOIA to go into and come out of closed session.

FOIA permits members of the public to photograph or record (audio, visual, or audio-visual) public meetings. It also permits public bodies to adopt reasonable rules concerning the use of cameras and recorders designed to prevent disruption.

All City Council regular meetings (excluding emergency meetings) are recorded via video and/or audio devices.

Making a Request for Records from the City of Winchester

You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA. 

From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect not to put it in writing.

Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.

Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy public records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the City or any department, nor does it require the City to create a record that does not exist.

You may request to receive electronic records in any format used by the City in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may request to receive those records electronically, via e-mail, or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.  The City will make efforts to oblige such a request to the extent reasonably practicable.

If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.

You may also mail or email your request for records. Direct your request to the department that is the custodian of the record or the FOIA Officer.

Responses to FOIA Requests

Virginia FOIA outlines the five possible responses to a FOIA request. If a request is being denied or records are not being provided according to the request, the FOIA Officer must respond in writing.

The Five Possible Responses:

  1. The requested records are being provided and are enclosed.
  2. The requested records are being provided in part and withheld in part because the release of part of the record is prohibited by law. The law must be properly cited in the response and include the Virginia Code Section exemption.
  3. It is not practically possible to produce the records within five working days, and we will need to invoke an extension. – An extension notification must be made in writing. This extension must be made within the five-day response time-frame and will add an additional seven working days to the response time, totaling 12 working days.
  4. The requested records are being entirely withheld because their release is prohibited by law or the City of Winchester has exercised its discretion to withhold the records in accordance with FOIA. The law must be properly cited in the response and include the Virginia Code Section exemption.
  5. The requested records could not be found or do not exist.

If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production or the records before we go to court to ask for more time.

Commonly Used Exemptions

The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold or redact certain records from public disclosure. The City commonly withholds and redacts records subject to the following exemptions:

  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3703(C) - provides “[n]o provision of [the Freedom of Information Act]…shall be construed to afford any rights to any person (i) incarcerated in a state, local or federal correctional facility….”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3704(A) - mandates disclosure of public records under the Freedom of Information Act only to “citizens of the Commonwealth, representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and representatives of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.1(1) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[p]ersonnel records containing information concerning identifiable individuals….”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.1(2) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[w]ritten advice of legal counsel to…local public bodies or the officers or employees of such public bodies, and any other records protected by the attorney-client privilege.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.1(3) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[l]egal memoranda and other work product compiled specifically for use in litigation or for use in an active administrative investigation concerning a matter that is properly the subject of a closed meeting under [Virginia Code] § 2.2-3711.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.1(6) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[v]endor proprietary information software that may be in the official records of a public body.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.1(12) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[r]ecords relating to the negotiation and award of a specific contract where competition or bargaining is involved and where the release of such records would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.1(13) - exempts from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act "[t]hose portions of records that contain account numbers or routing information for any credit card, debit card, or other account with a financial institution of any person or public body."
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.2(10)-(11) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 911 caller information.
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.3(10) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[t]he names, addresses and telephone numbers of complainants furnished in confidence with respect to an investigation of individual zoning enforcement complaints or complaints relating to the Uniform Statewide Building Code or the Statewide Fire Prevention Code made to a local governing body.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.5(1) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[h]ealth records….”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.7(1) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[s]tate income, business, and estate tax returns, personal property tax returns, scholastic and confidential records…”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.7(2) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure “[w]orking papers and correspondence of the…mayor or chief executive officer of any political subdivision of the Commonwealth….”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3706(A)(1)(a) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[criminal incident information] where the release of [such] is likely to jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution or the safety of an individual, cause a suspect to flee or evade detection, or result in the destruction of evidence….”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3706(A)(2)(a) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[c]riminal investigative files, defined as any documents, and information, including complaints, court orders, memoranda, notes, diagrams, maps, photographs, correspondence, reports, witness statements, and evidence relating to a criminal investigation or prosecution, other than criminal incident information [regarding felony offenses].”
  • Virginia Code Section 2.2-3706(A)(2)(g) - exempts from mandatory disclosure "[r]ecords of a law-enforcement agency to the extent that they disclose the telephone numbers for cellular telephones, pages, or comparable portable communication devices provided to its personnel for use in the performance of their official duties."
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3706(A)(2)(j) - exempts from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act "[t]he identity of any victim, witness, or undercover officer, or investigative techniques or procedures."
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3706(B) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure “[t]hose portions of noncriminal incident or other noncriminal investigative reports or materials that contain identifying information of a personal, medical, or financial nature…where the release of such information would jeopardize the safety or privacy of any person.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3706(A)(2)(i) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “[r]ecords of (i) background investigations of applicants for law-enforcement agency employment, (ii) administrative investigations relating to allegations of wrongdoing by employees of a law-enforcement agency, and (iii) other confidential administrative investigations conducted by law-enforcement agencies that are made confidential by law.”
  • Virginia Code § 2.2-3815(A) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act “the first five digits of a social security number contained in a public record.”
  • Virginia Code § 16.1-301(C)(6) - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure law enforcement records concerning juveniles.
  • Virginia Code § 19.2-389 - allows the City to exempt from mandatory disclosure VCIN records.

Specific to the  Commissioner of the Revenue

  • Federal tax returns and return information (Internal Revenue Code § 6103 (a)) and Virginia Code § 58.1-3
  • Virginia Code § 58.1-3 imposes stiff penalties on any person who discloses confidential taxpayer information. However, there is nothing in § 58.1-3 that prohibits the disclosure of confidential taxpayer information to the subject taxpayer. In other words, you may request and receive copies of your own tax returns. 
  • Also pursuant to Virginia Code § 58.1-3, the Commissioner cannot furnish aggregated tax information, by category, when the number of taxpayers within the category is minimal enough to potentially allow identification of the taxpayers.


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A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.

It is the goal of the Winchester FOIA Office to keep production costs as low as possible.

Citizens and members of the media may request an estimate of the cost of supplying the requested records in advance of the staff searching for and duplicating the records.

If the estimate is over $200 — An estimate of charges will be explained to the requestor prior to staff starting the FOIA request response. If it is estimated that the cost to produce documents will exceed $200, the City of Winchester will request a deposit prior to performing the work. The deposit will be applied to the total bill upon completion of the FOIA request. If the remaining balance is not paid in 30 days, the requestor will be notified that new FOIA requests will not be processed until payment in full has been received.