FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. Ronnie Sours
Ms. Donna Triplett
The staff of
the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your phone
conversations of April 11 and April 25, 2001.
Dear Mr. Sours and
You have asked whether
a citizen's advisory group, created to advise the State Transportation
Board ("the Board"), is a public body under the Virginia Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA).
By way of background,
you indicate that the members of the advisory group were appointed
by a member of the Board to develop a route for a proposed
road in your area. A letter from that Board member stated
that the group's recommendation would be given considerable
weight by the Board as a whole, and would likely be the selected
route. You indicate that the advisory group has been meeting
for six months, and has opened its meetings to members of
the press, but not the public. You state that you are uncertain
as to whether the advisory committee receives any public funds,
but you believe that the Board pays for a stenographer to
make transcripts of the meetings. You ask whether the advisory
board is required to hold open meetings under FOIA.
The Board itself
clearly falls under the definition of a public body under
FOIA, found at § 2.1-341 of the Code of Virginia, as it is
an agency of the Commonwealth. The definition of a
public body also includes any committee or subcommittee
of the public body created to perform delegated functions
of the public body or to advise the public body. It
shall not exclude any such committee or subcommittee because
it has private sector or citizen members. (Emphasis added)
The advisory group that you describe appears to fall under
this definition of a public body, and thus would be required
to conduct public meetings in accordance with FOIA.
You note that the
Board has cited an Attorney General's opinion in support of
its conclusion that the advisory group is not a public body
under FOIA. The Attorney General opined that a citizen advisory
committee appointed by a mayor was not a public body under
FOIA.1 The citizen advisory group reported only
to the mayor, not to the city council as a whole, and received
no public funding. The committee reviewed city charter provisions,
and recommended changes to the mayor. In reaching the conclusion
that this committee was not a public body, the Attorney General
relied on the definition of a public body. At the time of
the opinion, FOIA defined a public body as any legislative
body, 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 of the
State, supported wholly or principally by public funds.
The definition did not include the language found in the current
version of FOIA, which also includes citizen advisory committees
under the purview of a public body.
In conclusion, the
advisory committee that you have described is a public body
subject to the procedural requirements of FOIA. The information
that you have provided indicates that the committee's findings
will be considered by the Board as a whole in reaching a final
decision about the proposed route. Changes in the law, adding
advisory groups to the definition of a public body, have outdated
the relevant Attorney General's opinion on which the Board
relies in reaching a contrary conclusion.
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Maria J.K. Everett
1979-80 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 316.