Attorney General's Opinion 1975-76 #412


March 19, 1976

Commonwealth's Attorney for Franklin County

75-76 412

This is in response to your recent letter wherein you inquire whether a committee appointed by the county Board of Supervisors, composed of three of the Board's regular members, may meet in executive session for purposes of negotiating and discussing the proposed acquisition of a building to house county offices. You note in your letter that pursuant to §2.1-344(a)(2) of the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, it appears that the full membership of the Board of Supervisors would be authorized to meet in closed session for the purpose in question. This section reads:

"(a) Executive or closed meetings may be held only for the following purposes: * * *
"(2) Discussion or consideration of the condition, acquisition or use of real property for public purpose, or of the disposition of publicly held property."

Your inquiry then relates to whether a three member committee of the Board may discuss the same matters in a closed session.

Section 2.1-341(a) provides guidance regarding the kinds of meetings or gatherings of public officials which are intended to be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The aforementioned statute defines the term "meeting" as follows:

"(a) '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. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as to define a meeting as a chance meeting of two or more members of a public body, or as an informal assemblage of the constitutent membership at which matters relating to the exercise of official functions are not discussed." (Emphasis added.)

Considering this statutory language in its entirety, I am of the view that a gathering of two or more members of a governing body, for the purpose of discussing official business or functions of that body, constitutes a "meeting" within the terms of § 2.1-341(a), and that such meeting is subject to the same provisions as gatherings of the full membership of a governmental body at which official business is considered. I am of the opinion, therefore, that the three member committee composed of Board members may meet in closed session, pursuant to the provisions of §2.1-344(a)(2), for discussion of the acquisition of a county office building.

The provisions of §2.1-345(7) do not alter my opinion. This subsection provides that the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act are not applicable to study commissions or study committees appointed by governing bodies and reads as follows:

"(7) Study commissions or study committees appointed by the governing bodies of counties, cities and towns; provided, however, that final votes shall be taken in open meetings and provided, further, that no such committee or commission appointed by such governing bodies, the membership of which includes mere than one member of a three member governing body or includes more than two members of a governing body having four or more members, shall be deemed to be study commissions or study committees under the provisions of this section."

The committee about which you inquire does not come within the definition of a study committee in that it is composed of more than two members of the seven member governing body of Franklin County. Accordingly, the committee in question is not exempt from the provisions of the Act, and must comply with the provisions of §2.1-344.