Attorney General's Opinion 1974-75 #579

September 30, 1974

Member, House of Delegates

74-75 579

This is in response to your recent letter in which you inquire regarding the legality of an unannounced, private, "informal" meeting of the members of the Lynchburg City Council, at which meeting the matter of selecting a new mayor and vice-mayor was discussed and voted upon.

The Freedom of Information Act, pursuant to § 2.1-343, Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, provides that all meetings of public bodies shall be open or public meetings at which the public may be present.

In § 2.1-341(a) the term "meeting or meetings" is defined as:

". . . 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 constituent membership at which matters relating to the exercise of official functions are not discussed." (Emphasis supplied.)

My opinion letter to you, dated September 25, 1972 (72-73 Va. AG 492), clearly indicates that closed or private "informal" meetings of the constituent membership of public bodies, at which matters of official business are discussed, are prohibited by the Act. Discussion among Council members of the selection of a mayor and vice-mayor clearly relates to the exercise of official functions of City Council. Accordingly, any gathering of the constituent members of the Council for purpose of discussing or voting upon candidates for mayor and vice-mayor would, in my opinion, constitute a "meeting" within the terms of § 2.1-341(a). I, furthermore, conclude that discussion of such matters would not fall within the purview of any of the specifically enumerated subjects deemed appropriate for executive or closed meetings pursuant to § 2.1-344(a)(1)-(6).

Accordingly, I am of the opinion that the gathering in question was a "meeting" within the terms of the Freedom of Information Act and that such meeting must, therefore, be held in conformity with the open meeting requirements of § 2.1-343 of the Code.

Inasmuch as your letter indicates that the questioned meeting was not a regularly scheduled meeting of City Council and that there was no opportunity for the public to attend, I must conclude that the meeting was in violation of the specific requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.