E-meetings down the primrose path

I've written before about electronic meetings, and I'll probably write about them in the future. But I'm writing about them today because I just spent three hours in a meeting to talk about e-meetings, and I've left there vexed.

First, a bit of background about how and why we have the rules that we do for electronic meetings.

Finding truffles among the acorns

Don't you just love when you're looking for one thing and you find something else really good instead? Like getting lost on the way to Aunt Kay's house and finding an out-of-this-world tacqueria? Or searching your coats for a set of lost keys and finding a crisply folded sawbuck in the pocket?

It's the same in the FOIA world.

Save me from my high horse


As an advocate, an advocate for access, I can climb up on a high horse about as quickly as any given cowboy.

The better part of discretion, however, usually persuades me that when it comes to the use of certain exemptions to withhold records or close meetings, I can’t stay on that horse but for so long. That’s because there are reasonable differences in the way exemptions are interpreted and because I don’t usually have all (or even enough) facts to know if the exemption is being used properly.

Surprise! We just spent your money

Surprises are great for birthday parties, but not at public meetings.

But surprises are what some citizens get when they’re at a meeting where suddenly a new item is added to the agenda without warning. Discussion may or may not ensue, a vote is taken and boom, that’s it.

Teaching our kids about open government

I read an article today about how Florida is launching a new test for middle schoolers to prove that they know as much about how their government works as they do about “Snooki & Jwoww.”

Changes to FOIA for 7/1/12

Come July 1, a lot of new laws will go into effect, proof that the men and women we send to Richmond each year really do accomplish something.

There are some changes to the Freedom of Information Act, but luckily, as compared to some years, the changes are few and do not represent any major policy shifts.

For instance, there are only two new exemptions. There were years when there would be seven to 10 exemptions, so two is pretty good in my book.

FOIA from UVa to Town of Podunk

There was nothing special about Teresa Sullivan’s firing.

Well, sure, we’re talking about the state’s flagship university, and she was one of the state’s highest paid employees, and she held one of the most coveted jobs in American academia.

But for all that, in the eyes of the Freedom of Information Act’s meeting provisions, President Sullivan was no different from Zoe the city parking attendant.

And the Board of Visitors at Mr. Jefferson’s University was no different from the Town of Podunk or any other local government, regional authority, state board, etc.

Of course and email isn't a meeting. Right?

Of course an email is not a meeting. It’s mail. Electronic mail. It’s no different from sending your friends, colleagues and co-workers notes thrown over the cubicle wall; or dispatching a messenger to deliver a memo across town; or actually putting a stamp on an envelope and -- mon dieu! -- dropping it in a mailbox for the postman to spirit away to its intended.

Let the public speak

Some public bodies really make it seem like they don’t want to hear what you have to say.

It’s not unusual for time limits to be placed on comments made by the public at public meetings. Three minutes is a pretty common limit.

Bodies needed at public body meetings

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council will be holding three workgroups this summer, and all will require input from the public, as well as from the “stakeholders,” people like me who advocate for certain causes.


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