Attorney General's Opinion 1982-83 #726



September 15, 1982

The Honorable W. Ward Teel Member,
House of Delegates

82-83 726

This is in reply to your letter of September 2, 1982, inquiring whether the board of directors of a volunteer fire department is required to make public the reasons for the one-month suspension of its fire chief. You advise that the fire department is funded by State and local tax dollars.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act, 2.1-340 through 2.1-346.1, (the "Act") applies to the official records and meetings of "public bodies." For the purposes of the Act, if the volunteer fire department is, in fact, supported wholly or principally by public funds, its board would be considered a public body.1 Section 2.1-342 provides that "[e]xcept as otherwis specifically provided by law, all official records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of this Commonwealth.." (Emphasis added.) Likewise, 2.1-343 provides in pertinent part that "[e]xcept as otherwise specifically provided by law.. all meetings shall be public meetings." (Emphasis added.)

The Act itself provides that records regarding certain matters are excluded from the Act. Section 2.1-342(b) (3) excludes personnel records from mandatory disclosure. Section 2.1-344(a)(1) excludes "[d]iscussion or consideration of...performance, demotion...disciplining or resignation of public officers, appointees or employees of any public body..." from the public meeting requirement.

I am of the opinion, therefore, that under the Act personnel records that contain the reasons for the fire chief's suspension are not required to be disclosed.2 Additionally, I conclude that, if the decision to suspend the fire chief was made in a properly convened executive meeting,3 a report of any discussion of this matter held in executive session need not be made public.



1 Section 2.1-341(e) defines "public body" as any groups, agencies or organizations enumerated in subsection (a), i.e., any legislative body, authority, board, bureau, commission, district or agency of the Commonwealth or of any political subdivision of the Commonwealth, including cities, towns and counties; municipal councils, governing bodies of counties, school boards and planning commissions; boards of visitors of State institutions of higher education; and other organizations, corporations or agencies in the Commonwealth supported wholly or principally public funds...." (Emphasis added)

2 This assumes for purposes of my response that the volunteer fire department is wholly or principally funded by State or local funds. Except for that fact, the department would not constitute a "public body" in the usual sense; hence, not subject to the Act. In making this assumption, I note that the Act is to be liberally construed so that the public will receive the benefits of its purpose, and that exemptions from the Act are to be narrowly construed.

3 See 2.1-344(b).