By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND — Virginia taxpayers can rest assured that local elected officials won’t be able to legally conspire in small groups without public notice — at least, for now.
Members of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council on Thursday decidedly killed a heavily criticized proposal from Hanover County’s Board of Supervisors that would have changed Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act so local officials could meet in small groups without giving advanced public notice as long as a quorum was not present.
State law says public boards must give three days’ notice before more than two officials can meet.
Hanover County Attorney Sterling Rives, accompanied by Delegate Chris Peace, R-Mechanicsville, made his case that eliminating the public meeting requirement for small groups would be more efficient and allow for better brainstorming.
Members of the FOI council quickly caught onto the intent of the proposal, which has drawn the ire of countless newspaper editorials this summer.
“You mean three members in private? That’s what you’re really asking,” said council chairman Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland.
“Without it constituting a meeting under the Freedom of Information Act,” Rives clarified.
“I just want to be clear, what you’re asking is the ability for more members to be able to meet in private, out of public view?” Stuart added.
“Yes,” replied Rives.
Rives said the public atmosphere isn’t always “conducive to throwing up different ideas” and debating those ideas.
“Public officials are reluctant to do that in front of the press,” Rives said, gesturing at Watchdog.org.
That didn’t get much sympathy from the council members. Stuart said he makes comments every day during the legislative session in front of the press that don’t come off well.
Rives couldn’t garner any support for the proposal.
“Unless something’s really sensitive and there’s really a need for that, things just go so much better when it’s out in the open,” Stuart said.
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau