Attorney General's Opinion 1975-76 #406

April 12, 1976

Member, House of Delegates

75-76 406

This is in reply to your letter in which you ask whether administrative committees, composed of faculty and administrative personnel of the University of Virginia, appointed by the President of the University to study and advise on problems relating to the University community, are required by the provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to meet in public. You inquire more specifically as follows:

"1) Are the administrative committees protected from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act by virtue of the exemptions granted the Board of Visitors by that Act?

"2) If so, are the committees, like the board, required to announce their actions after each meeting, with members of the committees available to discuss the actions, and are the official minutes of the committees required to be available to the public not more than three working days after such meetings, with the exception of actions excluded by the Act?

"3) What changes in the Freedom of Information Act would be necessary to open the committee meetings?" In setting forth the types of entities required to meet in public the Freedom of Information Act provides as follows in §2.1-341(a), Code of Virginia (1950), as amended:

"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. . . ." (Emphasis added.)

An administrative committee of the type described above is not an "authority, board, bureau, commission, district or agency of the State or of any political subdivision of the State" within the meaning of §2.1-341(a). Accordingly, unless such a committee constitutes an "organization . . . supported wholly or principally by public funds," the committee is not included within the scope of §2.1-341(a) and is, therefore, not subject to the open meeting requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

I have previously ruled that the General Professional Advisory Committee (GPAC), a committee composed of university presidents, established by the Council on Higher Education to serve the Council as an advisory arm on a continuing basis, is an "organization" required to hold open meetings under §2.1-341(a). See Opinion to the Honorable Lawrence Douglas Wilder, Member, Senate of Virginia, dated April 21, 1975, and found in the Report of the Attorney General (1974-1975) at 584. The facts there revealed that GPAC is the creature of the Council, a public body subject to the Act, having been created to advise the Council relative to its official functions which must, of course, be exercised in open meetings. In the present circumstances, on the other hand, the committees in question are established by the University President to advise the President, an administrative official as distinguished from a public body.

Moreover, the administrative committees of the University are composed largely of faculty and staff personnel who are the employees of the institution. By contrast, GPAC is composed of university presidents who, except for their service as advisors to the Council on Higher Education, are independent of the Council and certainly have no relationship of employment with it. The degree of independence of the members of an advisory committee is an important criterion in determining whether any such entity constitutes an "organization" within the meaning of §2.1-341(a). In this instance, the administrative committees are essentially internal mechanisms rather than separate organizations.

For these reasons, I am of the opinion that administrative committees of the University of Virginia are not required to hold open meetings in compliance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. It is apparent, however, that the foregoing conclusion is not based upon the exemption afforded boards of visitors under §2.1-345. Accordingly, I must respond to your first numbered inquiry in the negative.

With respect to your inquiry numbered (2), since the exemption of university administrative committees is not by virtue of §2.1-345, such committees are not required to comply with procedural steps outlined in §2.1-345.

In response to your final inquiry, requiring that meetings of university administrative committees be open to the public would, in my view, necessitate specific amendment of the provisions of §2.1-341(a) to include such committees as public bodies subject to the requirements of the Act.