Sunrise over V.A. Capitol.

May 25, 2004, Richmond

The subcommittee on electronic meetings, comprised of Council members Hallock, Hopkins, and Miller, met on May 25, 2004 to discuss several issues concerning electronic meeting requirements and requirements for notice of raised by representatives from the Clerk's Offices of the Senate and the House. The meeting was well attended by representatives of the press, public, and state and local government.

The subcommittee discussed several issues relating to the electronic meeting provisions found at § 2.2-3708 of the Code of Virginia and was considering the following areas where change may be warranted. It was suggested that requiring 30 days notice for an electronic meeting was onerous. Often times meetings are not planned 30 days in advance. Also, various situations may arise closer to the meeting day, such as personal emergencies or other exigent circumstances which prevent members of a public body from being physically present at a meeting. Another issue raised was the limitation of only allowing 25 percent of meetings annually to be conducted electronically. For example, if a public body only meets three or four times a year, such as a General Assembly study, it may be difficult or impossible to hold even one electronic meeting. The question was raised as to whether there should be an emergency provision that would allow a member of a public body to participate electronically at the last minute due to a personal emergency without triggering the requirements of an electronic meeting (i.e. no heightened notice, etc.). The law currently requires that an electronic meeting be suspended at all locations if there is an audio or visual malfunction -- even though a quorum must be at one location. The purpose behind this provision is to guarantee public participation at all locations, since all meeting locations must be open to the public. However, it was noted that it might be difficult for one site to realize that another site has lost the audio or the audio/visual feed. Finally, it was noted that while electronic meetings are beneficial to the members of a public body, they can also be used as a means to increase public participation in meetings, and that technology can be used to enhance meetings for both members and the public.

The subcommittee also discussed the general notice requirements for all meetings (and not just electronic meetings). The law currently requires posting notice in two physical locations, and posting electronically is "encouraged." It was noted that the Internet is now a place where interested persons often look for notice of a meeting. Additionally, because the law already requires state public bodies to place their meeting minutes on the Internet, it makes sense to use the Internet to also post notice.

The subcommittee plans to meet again in July (tentatively July 7). Staff will prepare draft legislation that will:

· Shorten the notice requirement for electronic meetings from 30 days to 7 days and remove the 25 percent limitation on the number of electronic meetings. This will be used as a springboard for further discussion. It was decided to not include an "emergency " provision for personal emergencies of members at this time, but it may be discussed further at the next meeting.
· Address the malfunction of the audio or audio/visual feed issue. It was suggested that notice of electronic meetings include a phone number of a contact person that participants at the various sites can call during the meeting to notify others that they have lost audio or audio/video feed.
· Include a requirement that state executive public bodies post notice of all meetings on the Internet, in addition to posting notice at the two physical locations. These public bodies must already post minutes, and as of July 1, post FOIA rights & responsibilities information on their website. Local governing bodies will be encouraged to post notice on the Internet, as there is no current requirement that local governing bodies have websites.

Representatives from the clerks' offices will examine the possibility of establishing telephone numbers that members of the public could use to call into to monitor and listen to meetings (any meeting, not just an electronic meeting) as a means of increasing public participation through technology.

Also of note, the subcommittee is attempting to set up an audio/visual meeting for its next meeting to allow Mr. Hopkins to join in the meeting from Blacksburg. Not only will this save him five or more hours of driving to physically attend the meeting, it will also give the subcommittee first-hand experience with electronic meetings.