Attorney General's Opinion 1977-78 #485

VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT Meeting Of Members Of City Council And Planning Commission Must Comply With Act Meeting held outside of State does not affect.

VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT Joint Meeting Of Two Public Bodies Does Not Alter Public Meeting Requirements Of Act.

VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT Meetings Of Public Bodies; Minutes Must Be Kept; Notice Of Meeting Must Be Furnished To Any Citizen Who Requests Such Notice In Writing.

September 28, 1977

Member, House of Delegates

77-78 485

I am in receipt of your recent letter in which you inquire as follows:

"I wish to request your opinion concerning whether the Freedom of Information Act is applicable to a meeting recently held by several members of the Virginia Beach City Council and Planning Commission. Specifically, my inquiry is:
"Is it a violation of the Freedom of Information Act, §2.1-340 et seq., Virginia Code for five members of the Virginia Beach City Council and six members of the Virginia Beach Planning Commission to attend a 'workshop' at a cottage, owned by the Chairman of the Planning Commission and located in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where during a period of two and a half hours the city's growth and a proposed Comprehensive Plan to be adopted in accordance with state law were discussed?

"According to newspaper reports following the meeting, a weekend gathering of members of the City Council and Planning Commission was planned six weeks prior to the weekend."

It is, furthermore, my understanding that minutes were not recorded at the aforementioned gathering and that certain individuals and organizations which had previously requested notice of each meeting of City Council, pursuant to §2.1-343, Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, were not notified of these proceedings.

The gathering you describe did constitute a "meeting" of the Council and Planning Commission as defined in the Freedom of Information Act. See §2.1-341(a). The 1977 General Assembly amended the definition of the term "meeting" to exclude therefrom gatherings of the membership of public bodies at social and other functions where such gathering was not prearranged for the purpose of discussing public business. Assuming the facts you have supplied that the gathering in question was prearranged with the purpose of discussing matters of public business, then this gathering would not fall within the terms of this exclusion.

All meetings of public bodies, except as otherwise specifically provided by law, are required to be held in compliance with § 2.1-343, which requires: (1) the meeting must be a public one, at which the public may be present, (2) minutes shall be kept, and (3) notice of the meeting must be furnished to any citizen who requests such notice in writing. You indicate that no minutes of the proceedings were recorded and that notice to individuals requesting the same was not provided. On the basis of this criteria alone, I conclude that the meeting did violate the requirements of §2.1-343. In an Opinion to the, Honorable A. Joseph Canada, Jr., Member, Senate of Virginia, dated November 5, 1975, and found in the Report of the Attorney General (1975-76) at 411-412, a similar conclusion was reached, where members of City Council met at a Council member's home and discussed public business without recording minutes or notifying persons who had requested notice of Council meetings. Accordingly, it is my opinion that both the City Council and the Planning Commission met in violation of the Act.

The fact that the meeting was a joint gathering of two public bodies does not alter the public meeting requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. See §2.1 -344(d). Further, the occurrence of the meeting outside the State does not affect my conclusion that the Act has been violated. Section 2.1-343 requires that all meetings be public meetings except as specifically otherwise provided.