An investigation into Albemarle County government’s veiled scheme to extract additional taxes from residents has hit a legally dubious administrative roadblock.
The Schilling Show recently reported on Albemarle County Finance Director, Betty Burrell’s spate of letters to already overtaxed mom and pop landlords, demanding heretofore-unknown taxes along with substantial interest and punitive penalties. The claim was made under an arcane and previously unenforced 1973 county law requiring individual landlords to obtain a business license and pay BPOL taxes on their gross receipts.
A July 8 open records inquiry to Albemarle County requested the following:
Any document created by Betty Burrell, or any correspondence between Betty Burrell and any other county employee or elected official, which references either directly or indirectly:
- Enhanced county revenue collection or related policies
- The use of automated or computerized means to research income or earnings of Albemarle County residents
- The use of federal income tax records to determine tax liability of Albemarle County residents
On July 26, after taking a legally permissible “additional seven working days” to provide the requested records, Albemarle County provided:
- 18 pages of documents pertaining to enhanced County revenue collection or related policies
- 6 pages of documents pertaining to the use of automated or computerized means to research income or earnings of Albemarle County residents
Disturbingly, Albemarle County Executive, Thomas J. Foley, refused to provide multiple pages of requested records, citing an overly broad and often abused Virginia Freedom of Information Act exception:
An additional 16 pages of documents pertaining to enhanced County revenue collection or related policies are working papers and correspondence of the County Executive, and therefore excluded from disclosure under Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.7(2).
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government opined on this use of the “working papers” exemption:
The working papers exemption has become a very broadly interpreted exemption by all who are allowed to use it (from university presidents, school board superintendents, members of the General Assembly, etc.). It is meant to cover those records during the deliberative process that are prepared by or for the named individual’s personal use. The exemption is lost if/when the records are distributed to others (that is, others who are not the ones who are part of the preparing by and for). That’s the issue the governor has gotten in trouble with when he said the list of felons was a working paper, even though he’d sent it to the board of elections, because — according to his office — he was personally deliberating on the list every day. [emphasis added]
Tom Foley’s willful refusal to release what in essence should be public documents raises other significant questions:
- What secret taxation schemes has Tom Foley envisioned for Albemarle County citizens
- Why would Tom Foley withhold information on these tax schemes
- Has Tom Foley shared any portion of the withheld information (thus deeming his “working papers” claim invalid)
- Will any member of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors demand a copy of the withheld documents in order to share them with the public
Foley, an unelected bureaucrat who lives well on taxpayer-provided compensation in excess of $200,000 annually, owes more to those who furnish his salary.
Albemarle County taxpayers, whose cost of living is already extraordinarily high, have a right to know—well in advance—what schemes are being developed to further deprive them of their sustenance.
And Albemarle County Supervisors, who have an implicit fiduciary duty to protect individual citizens from administrative tyranny, must obtain Foley’s secret tax documents for purposes of objective analysis and public dissemination.