January 9, 1974
THE HONORABLE J. HARRY MICHAEL, JR.
Member, Senate of Virginia
This will acknowledge receipt of your recent letter in which you
request my advice regarding two inquiries directed to you as
"1. Are Boards of Zoning Appeals subject to the
provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
"2. Was the Charlottesville board violating that act on
December 21 when it met in private. If so, are the actions taken
by the board as a result of their closed deliberations null and
The Freedom of Information Act, pursuant to §2.1-343, Code of
Virginia (1950), as amended, requires that all meetings of public
bodies of the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions be open to
the public as follows:
"Except as otherwise specifically provided by law and
except as provided in §§2.1-344 and 2.1-345, all
meetings shall be public meetings. . . . Information as to the
time and place of each meeting shall be furnished to any citizen
of this State who requests such information." (Emphasis added.)
Section 2.1-341(a) sets forth the types of public bodies or
entities whose meetings shall be subject to the requirements of the
"'Meeting or meetings' means the meetings, when sitting
as a body or entity, or as an informal assemblage of the
constituent membership, with or without minutes being taken,
whether or not votes are cast, of any authority, board, bureau,
commission, district or agency of the State, or of any political
subdivision of the State, including cities, towns and counties;
municipal councils, governing bodies of counties, school boards
and planning commissions; and other organizations, corporations or
agencies in the State, supported wholly or principally by public
funds . . .." (Emphasis added.)
Section 15.1-494 provides that for any county or municipality
which has enacted or enacts a zoning ordinance there shall be created
a board of zoning appeals which shall be appointed by the Circuit or
Corporation Court for the county or city. Boards of zoning appeals
are, therefore, unquestionably public bodies of the city or county
for which they are created and would, barring the existence of
statutory exemption, be subject to the requirements of the Act
pursuant to §2.1-341(a).
No provision of Title 15.1 authorizing the creation and defining
the powers of local boards of zoning appeals in any way exempts such
boards from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
Section 2.1-345, which enumerates certain specifically named types
of public bodies which are to be exempted from the requirements of
the Act, contains no reference to boards of zoning appeals.
In view of the foregoing, I must conclude that boards of zoning
appeals are public bodies of the political subdivisions for which
they are created and are subject to the requirements of the Freedom
of Information Act. Accordingly, your first inquiry must be answered
in the affirmative.
Your second inquiry asks, first, whether the Charlottesville Board
violated the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act when it met
in closed session on December 21, 1973. This would depend upon the
nature of the matters discussed and acted upon by the Board in its
closed session. Executive or closed meetings of public bodies may be
held only for the purposes specifically set forth in §2.1-344.
While it is not entirely clear from the facts supplied by your
inquiry and the attached newspaper clippings as to exactly what
matters were considered by the Board of Zoning Appeals in its
December 21, 1973, meeting, unless that closed meeting was held for
one of the purposes specified in §2.1-344, such closed meeting
was in violation of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act
contained in §2.1-343.
With respect to the validity of action taken by a public body in
an unauthorized executive or closed meeting, §2.1-344(c) clearly
provides that no action taken by a public body in closed session
shall become effective until such public body takes a vote, in open
session, regarding the matters acted upon in executive session. I am,
therefore, of the opinion that any action taken by the
Charlottesville Board of Zoning Appeals at its closed session on
December 21, 1973, not voted upon subsequently in open session, would
be null and void.