Sunrise over V.A. Capitol.
VIRGINIA FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ADVISORY COUNCIL
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA


AO-43-01

September 5, 2001

Ms. Sandra Hart-Davenport
Damascus, Virginia

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 correspondence of August 9, 2001.

Dear Ms. Hart-Davenport:

You have asked a question concerning the notice requirements for public meetings pursuant to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). You indicate that until recently, notice for public meetings had been regularly posted on the front door of the town hall, which is visible to the community 24 hours a day. However, you state that notice is no longer posted at this location; instead it is posted on a bulletin board adjacent to the town clerk's office inside the building, and on a town website on the Internet. You indicate that the bulletin board is only accessible during regular business hours, and that not everyone in the town has access to a computer or the ability to operate one. You ask if notice posted at the clerk's office and on the Internet complies with the notice requirements set forth in FOIA.

Subsection C of 2.1-343 of the Code of Virginia states that [e]very public body shall give notice of the date, time, and location of its meetings by placing the notice in a prominent public location at which notices are regularly posted and in the office of the clerk of the public body, or in the case of a public body which has no clerk, in the office of the chief administrator. Publication of meeting notices by electronic means shall be encouraged.1 In interpreting this provision, 2.1-340.1 states that the provisions of FOIA shall be liberally construed to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operation of government.2

Interpreting the notice provision liberally, as is required by law, it would appear that notice is required, at a minimum, to be posted in two physical locations: a prominent public location and the clerk's office. Posting in one or the other of these locations would not satisfy the requirements of the law. In addition to this minimum requirement, the law encourages a public body to use electronic means to post notice, such as on a town website. Other places in the law also encourage the use of electronic communications to supplement, but not replace, traditional FOIA requirements. For example, subsection E of 2.1-3433 allows a public body to give notice to those who request it via electronic mail, but only if the requester agrees. Posting notice at one physical location, available to the public during business hours on weekdays, and on the Internet, which not every citizen has the ability to access, does not further the policy of FOIA to promote an increased awareness of government and to allow citizens the opportunity to witness government. Continuing to post notice on the door of the town hall as well as in the clerk's office would satisfy the notice requirements of FOIA. If the public body desired, it could post the notice on the Internet in addition to these physical locations in an attempt to promote increased awareness of governmental activities.

Thank you for contacting this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

Maria J.K. Everett
Executive Director

1Va. Code Ann. 2.2-3707(C) (Michie 2001) (effective Oct. 1, 2001).
2Va. Code Ann. 2.2-3700 (Michie 2001) (effective Oct. 1, 2001).
3Va. Code Ann. 2.2-3707(C) (Michie 2001) (effective Oct. 1, 2001).

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