Sunshine Week

What is it?

Every year Sunshine Week strives to promote transparency in government. Participants include media, civil liberties groups and others interested in society’s right to be informed.

The tradition began in 2002 when the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors started Sunshine Sundays, which was an attempt to stand up against Florida legislators attempting to add exemptions to the public’s access to records. The week-long version as we know it today began in 2005 when the American Society of News Editors started Sunshine Week, according to sunshineweek.org.

Sometimes it isn’t easy gaining access to public documents and this week is meant to show the public and the government the importance of ease of access to government information. Ease of access leads to a better informed public; a better informed public leads to a better possibility of positive change.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government releases a monthly Sunshine Report that talks about changes in FOI law and procedure in the state.


What is the Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act was approved on July, 4 1966 and officially took effect a year later. Its passage made it mandatory for the government to release any documents that are requested, unless the documents are specifically exempt under the law.

Public records have been in the news recently after it came out that Hillary Clinton used her private email while she was secretary of state. She said it was due to convenience. The New York Times’ article that broke the news said she “may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”

Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, told On the Media that Clinton should not have been using a private email, but it’s unclear if she broke any laws.

According to the Student Press Law Center FOI law applies to every agency, department, regulatory commission, government-controlled corporation and other establishment of the federal government’s executive branch; documents generated by Congress, the federal courts, private corporations or federally funded state agencies once they are filed with a federal agency.

On the state level the laws vary as much as the borders of the states they pertain to. But the SPLC says the the concept remains constant across the country: the government must provide information when the public asks for it.

There are exemptions to FOIA. Some are widely accepted, like exemptions for documents related to national security. Others are more controversial, like Virginia’s wide-reaching “working papers” exemption, which was prominently noted by news organizations who ran into the wall it created while attempting to access documents at the University of Virginia in the wake of a Rolling Stone article.

In 2013 — the most recent data available — the federal government received 704,394 FOIA requests. Of those requests 49 percent were released in full, 42 percent were partially released and about nine percent were fully denied.

The public’s access has changed in many areas over the years. One of the improvements has been the federal Clery Act, which set the requirements for releasing crime data at college police departments.


FOIA Exemptions   

Not all documents or information can be disclosed to the public under the Freedom Of Information Act.

These exemptions are:

1. Information that is classified to protect national security or is classified under Executive Order.
2. Legally protected information that is entirely related to the internal rules and practices of an agency.
3. Information that is protected under law.
4. Information that discloses business trade secrets and confidential financial or commercial information.
5. Information that discloses inter-agency or intra-agency communication which are protected under legal privileges.
6. Information that, if disclosed, would invade the personal privacy of an individual.
7. Information that is compiled for law enforcement purposes.
8. Information that is prepared by, on behalf of or for the use of agencies that regulate financial institutions.
9. Geological information on oil wells.


What We Did

On February 1, The CT sent the following FOIA requests to the FOIA Coordinator, Leila Ugincius.

On February 13, The CT followed up with Leila Ugincius to ask for supporting documents for the FOIA requests that needed them:

1) How many vehicular accidents have been investigated by the VCU Police Department in the years of 2010 to 2014? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at a cost of $853.35 (The $853.35 includes the cost of finding the documents for question 3)

2) Has the VCU Police Department made requests for military surplus weapons/equipment within the years of 2004 to 2014?
= The request was answered at no cost.

3) How many bike theft cases investigated by the VCU Police Department within the years of 2010 to 2014 have resulted in bikes returned to their owners? May we receive copies of all the VCU PD reports regarding stolen bikes in the VCU campus from 2012 to January 2015?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at a cost of $853.35 (The $853.35 includes the cost of finding the documents for question 1)

4) May we receive a list of all formal complaints the VCU Police Department has received in the years of 2010 to 2014? May we receive copies of all the formal complaints the VCU PD has received from 2010 to January 2015?
= The first part of the request was answered without a cost. However, The CT was denied access to copies of the formal complaints due to the records containing personally identifiable information which makes them exempt from FOIA disclosure under Subdivision A4 of 2.2-3705.

5) What is the budgeted amount of money for construction of the ICA? How much money was currently used so far for the construction of ICA?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.

6) In the years of 2010 to 2014, how much money was surplus for VCU Dining from students not using their Swipes and Dining Dollars? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost

7) In the years of 2010 to 2014, how much revenue did VCU receive from Parking Passes, Parking Permits and Event Parking? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at a cost of $114.

8) May we receive all email correspondences between Gail Hackett, Michael Rao and all members of the two Provost Search Committees?
= The documents and records are still pending. The CT was charged $700 for the FOIA Coordinator to process the request.

9) May we see any or all contracts between VCU and the Department of Defense regarding drone research?
= The request was withdrawn as there were no records that were responsive to the request.

10) May we see all email correspondences between VCU and Altria?
= The request was withdrawn as there were no records that were responsive to the request.

11) In the years of January 2010 to December 2014, what percentage of students are “super-seniors” or need more than 8 semesters to graduate?
= The request was withdrawn. The FOIA Coordinator said VCU has no records that would allow the University to make an accurate determination of those numbers.

12) In the years of 2010 to 2014, how much money from the Student Activity Fee was allocated to the Student Government Association?
= The request was withdrawn in order to be rephrased for a different FOIA request for Sunshine Week.

13) In the years of 2010 to 2014, how many students have dropped out of VCU?
= The request was withdrawn. The FOIA Coordinator said VCU has no records that would allow the University to make an accurate determination of those numbers.

14) How much money does VCU allocate to VCU academic scholarships? How much money does VCU allocate to VCU sports scholarships? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost

15) How much donations has the VCU Men’s basketball program received from alumni in the years of 2010 to 2014? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?
= The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost


On Feb. 23, The CT requested the following documents from the Monroe Park Student Government Association, the Activities Programing Board and the Student Media Commission through the VCU FOIA Coordinator:

Budgets from 2011 to date:

= The Monroe Park Student Government Association: The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.
= The Activities Programming Board: The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.
= The Student Media Commission: The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.

Bylaws and/or Constitutions:

= The Monroe Park Student Government Association: The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.
= The Activities Programming Board: The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.
= The Student Media Commission: The request was answered and fulfilled at no cost.


What We Found

1) How many vehicular accidents have been investigated by the VCU Police Department in the years of 2010 to 2014? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?

= Total investigated roadway crashes in 2011: 70
= Total investigated roadway crashes in 2012: 68
= Total investigated roadway crashes in 2013: 57
= Total investigated roadway crashes in 2014: 40

*On Feb 13, the FOIA Coordinator gave The CT the numbers of investigated roadway crashes from 2011 to 2014. The CT, received copies of the VCU PD’s crash and hit and run reports from Shana Mell, the VCU PD’s Performance Management Coordinator, on March 9. If you have any questions regarding the copies of the reports, please contact the Executive Editor, Cyrus Nuval (nuvalcb@commonwealthtimes.org).

2) Has the VCU Police Department made requests for military surplus weapons/equipment within the years of 2004 to 2014?

= According to the FOIA Coordinator, the VCU PD has made no requests for military surplus weapons or equipment in the years of 2004 to 2014. No copies of documents were given.

3) How many bike theft cases investigated by the VCU Police Department within the years of 2010 to 2014 have resulted in bikes returned to their owners? May we receive copies of all the VCU PD reports regarding stolen bikes in the VCU campus from 2012 to January 2015?

2010: 69
2011: 52
2012: 66
2013 (2/6/2013): 2

*The CT acquired the numbers from the copies of VCU PD larceny reports from Shana Mell. As of press time, The CT has not yet received the numbers of reports for the years of 2014 to date. If you have any questions regarding the copies of the reports, please contact the Executive Editor, Cyrus Nuval (nuvalcb@commonwealthtimes.org).

4) May we receive a list of all formal complaints the VCU Police Department has received in the years of 2010 to 2014? May we receive copies of all the formal complaints the VCU PD has received from 2010 to January 2015?

= In the Academic Year of 2010 to 2011: 69 formal complaints
= In the Academic Year of 2011 to 2012: 59 formal complaints
= In the Academic Year of 2012 to 2013: 44 formal complaints
= In the Academic Year of 2013 to 2014: 33 formal complaints
= In the Academic Year of 2014 to 2015: 21 formal complaints (as of press time)

* The CT received the numbers of formal complaints from the FOIA Coordinator on February 13. However, The CT was denied access to copies of the formal complaints due to the records containing personally identifiable information which makes them exempt from FOIA disclosure under Subdivision A4 of 2.2-3705.

5) What is the budgeted amount of money for construction of the ICA? How much money was currently used so far for the construction of ICA?

= $34,428,662.00 was budgeted for construction of the ICA.
= As of press time, $3,948,761.74 was spent and $25,183,723.32 was committed for the construction.
= As of press time, there is currently $5,296,176.94 remaining.

* The CT received the information on Feb. 19 from a screenshot of the ICA’s budget and expenditures.
ICA Banner Budget and Expenditures

6) In the years of 2010 to 2014, how much money was surplus for VCU Dining from students not using their Swipes and Dining Dollars? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?

= In the fiscal year of 2010: $1,639,074 surplus
= In the fiscal year of 2011: $1,045,511 surplus
= In the fiscal year of 2012: $591,005 surplus
= In the fiscal year of 2013: $2,268,801 surplus
= In the fiscal year of 2014: $930,719 surplus

* The amounts were given to us on Feb. 13 and a spreadsheet containing the information was given to us on Feb. 19 from the FOIA Coordinator.
FOIA-Dining Svcs-FY10-14

7) In the years of 2010 to 2014, how much revenue did VCU receive from Parking Passes, Parking Permits and Event Parking? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?

= In the fiscal year of 2010: $8,933,575 in Permits/Decals/Passes and $400,667 in Event Parking
= In the fiscal year of 2011: $9,346,253 in Permits/Decals/Passes and $369,593 in Event Parking
= In the fiscal year of 2012: $9,606,837 in Permits/Decals/Passes and $533,428 in Event Parking
= In the fiscal year of 2013: $9,672,070 in Permits/Decals/Passes and $492,516 in Event Parking
= In the fiscal year of 2014: $10,494,590 in Permits/Decals/Passes and $646,941 in Event Parking

* The amounts were given to us on Feb. 9 by the FOIA Coordinator. The CT received screenshots of the revenues from the FOIA Coordinator on Feb. 25.
FY10 P&T revenues
FY11 P&T revenues
FY12 P&T revenues
FY13 P&T revenues
FY14 P&T revenues

8) May we receive all email correspondences between Gail Hackett, Michael Rao and all members of the two Provost Search Committees?

= As of press time The CT has not yet received any documents or copies of any email correspondences between Gail Hackett, Michael Rao and all members of the two Provost Search Committees. As of press time, due to the large numbers of emails sent between the four parties, the FOIA coordinator and her associates are still working on getting all of the documents.

14) How much money does VCU allocate to VCU academic scholarships? How much money does VCU allocate to VCU sports scholarships? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?

= According to the SCHEV Financial Aid Program Report for 2013-2014:

– In the fiscal year of 2014, VCU allocated $6,649,347 to academic scholarships and $4,105,503 to athletic-related aid.

* The information was given to us by the FOIA Coordinator on Feb. 9. The information can also be found in the SCHEV database guide to financial aid reports on research.schev.edu.

15) How much donations has the VCU Men’s basketball program received from alumni in the years of 2010 to 2014? May we receive copies of the documents were you found this information?

= In the fiscal year of 2014, the VCU Athletics Department received $2,614,258 in gifts. According to the FOIA coordinator, the VCU Athletics Department does not track donations by alumni.   

* The CT received the information on Feb. 9 from the FOIA Coordinator. The CT also received copies of the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts’ 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 schedule of revenues and expenses for Intercollegiate Athletic Programs on Feb. 19.
APA NCAA 2010
VCU 2011 NCAA Report
VCUNCAA2012
APA NCAA 2013
FY14 APA Report


How are the funds from the $45 per semester activity fee divided?

It goes to four main groups: Monroe Park Campus Student Government Association, the Activities Programing Board, The Homecoming Committee and the Student Media Commission (which The CT is a part of). Below

*These numbers were provided by VCU’s FOIA coordinator on March 2 at no cost to The CT. Bylaws for all of these organizations can be found on The CT’s website. A link will be provided with this story on The CT’s website that will show how the SGA allotted their funds to different organizations in Fiscal Year 2014.


The Commonwealth Times would like to thank the following people for their patience and cooperation in providing the CT with the information and documents for Sunshine Week:

Leila Ugincius, VCU’s FOIA Coordinator
Anne Buckley, the Senior Director of University Public Affairs
Pamela Lepley, the Vice President for University Relations
Corey Byers, the Public Relations Specialist for the VCU Police Department
Shana Mell, the Performance Management Coordinator for the VCU Police Department

As well as members of the University Public Affairs, University Relations, the VCU Police Department and the VCU Administration who participated in finding and compiling the information.

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