Attorney General's Opinion 1975-76 #408


VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT -- Boards Of Visitors Of State Colleges Exempt From Some Requirements Of Act. COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES -- Boards Of Visitors Exempt From Some Requirements Of Freedom Of Information Act.

DEFINITIONS -- "Actions" And "Actions Taken" As Used In Freedom Of Information Act. NOTICES -- Freedom Of Information Act -- Public prior notice of meeting of boards of visitors of State colleges.

December 29, 1975

Member, House of Delegates

75-76 408

This is in response to your recent letter wherein you inquire as follows:

". . . Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act,

"1. Does a Board of Visitors of a State College have authority to refuse to give public prior notice of intent to meet either in regular or special session?

"2. Is any action taken at a meeting held without such advance notice valid?

"3. What are the definitions of the terms 'actions' and 'actions taken ' as used in 2.1-345(5)? Do the terms encompass both votes taken and/or decisions reached by such Board?

"4. Is a Board of Visitors exempt from the requirement to disclose votes taken or decisions reached in any meeting on any subject, and, if so, on what subjects and under what circumstances?"

I shall respond to your inquiries seriatim. Pursuant to the provisions of §2.1-345(5), Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, boards of visitors of State-supported colleges and universities are exempt from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, except that immediately following their meetings boards must announce actions taken (except actions covered by §2.1-344), remain for discussion of actions taken, and make available within three days the minutes of board meetings. Accordingly, the only explicit requirements imposed upon boards of visitors are contained in §2.1-345(5). There is no requirement of notice prior to board meetings in §2.1-345(5). The provision of §2.1-345(5) requiring announcement of board actions immediately following board meetings, however, implicitly requires that those who may wish to attend the post-meeting announcements have some form of notice as to the time and place of board meetings, otherwise the requirement of post-meeting announcements would serve no purpose.

Since §2.1-345(5) serves primarily to exempt boards of visitors from requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, any notice requirement which is found implicit therein cannot reasonably be interpreted to require more than is required of governmental bodies and agencies which are subject to the Act. Section 2.1-343 requires of governmental bodies subject to the Act prior notice of meetings only to those individuals requesting such notice. There is no requirement of general public notice. I am, therefore, of the opinion that 2.1-345(5) requires that boards of visitors give prior notice of meetings only to those individuals specifically requesting the same.

As to your second inquiry, I am of the opinion that the failure of a board of visitors to give notice of its meetings would have no effect upon the validity of actions taken at such meetings. Section 2.1-344(c) provides that certain actions taken in an executive or closed meeting shall not become effective unless a vote is subsequently taken in an open meeting. This is the only direct sanction provided for in the Freedom of Information Act but, as previously mentioned, the provisions of the Act are not applicable to boards of visitors. Section 2.1-346 provides that persons denied the rights and privileges conferred by the Act may proceed to enforce them by mandamus or injunction in a court of record. In view of my answer to your first inquiry, it is my further opinion that the provisions of §2.1-346 would be available regarding the requirement of notice.

With respect to your third inquiry, as I have indicated, §2.1-345(5) exempts boards of visitors of State-supported colleges and universities from the provisions of the Act, requiring instead that following their meetings they announce publicly all actions taken, except those actions relating to subjects excluded by the provisions of 2.1-344. The word "actions" as used in this context would, in my opinion, include any resolution, rule, regulation or motion passed or agreed upon by the members of the board apart from §2.1-344 matters. See Report of the Attorney General (1973-1974) at 454.

With respect to your fourth question, §2.1-345(5) specifically states that all actions of the board, except those actions relating to matters covered in 2.1-344, must be announced following board meetings. I am, therefore, of the opinion that boards of visitors are not required to announce actions taken in meetings relating to those matters within the purview of §2.1-344(a)(1)-(6).