FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
July 13, 2005, Richmond
Meetings Subcommittee1 held its second meeting on July 13,
2005. Chairman Edwards indicated that because the subcommittee
lacked a quorum at its first meeting, it was appropriate to
reconsider the issues raised by HB 2760 (Reese), which would
expand authority for the conduct of electronic meetings under
§ 2.2-3708 to local governing bodies and other local
public bodies. A representative of the Virginia Association
of Counties (VACo) stated that VACo had discussed this issue
and indicated that while it would be beneficial to have the
option to conduct electronic meetings, especially in high
traffic or rural areas because of the specific challenges,
there was no strong push to get it because it is generally
understood that face-to-face meetings are still the appropriate
method. The Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition
for Open Government indicated that it was their uniform view
that local government is particularly suited to the face-to-face
meeting model and therefore would not favor such an expansion.
offered that in-person meetings make for better government.
With regard to localities, there may be certain limited circumstances
where electronic meeting could be permissible due to great
travel distances or if an emergency existed. He noted that
with regard to FOIA, the matter of convenience belonged to
the public and not the government.
voted not to recommend HB 2760 as it related to local governing
bodies and school boards in light of the significant relaxation
of the procedural requirements made by the 2005 Session of
the General Assembly. The subcommittee then focused its discussion
on a peripheral issue raised by HB 2760, namely that of application
of § 2.2-3708 to local regional public bodies. The subcommittee
had previously been requested by the Potomac and Rappahannock
Transportation Commission to authorize them to conduct a pilot
project whereby the Commission could meet electronically and
report its experiences.
As part of its deliberations, the subcommittee discussed the
legislative history of § 2.2-3708 and noted that when
the law was initially enacted in 1984, it prohibited any public
body from conducting electronic meetings. The next significant
amendment to this section came in 1992 when state public bodies
were granted the permanent authority to conduct electronic
meetings. In 1996, § 2.2-3708 was amended to require
that a quorum of a state public body be assembled at one central
location as a prerequisite for conducting electronic meetings.
Finally, in 2005, this section was amended to significantly
relax the procedural requirements for conducting electronic
meetings by state public bodies. A complete legislative history
of § 2.2-3708 is attached as Appendix A.
of the Piedmont Workforce Network (the Network) advised the
subcommittee that the Network, required under the federal
Workforce Investment Act, was comprised of a board of over
50 members, representing 11 jurisdictions. He advised that
for some members, it is a two-hour commute one-way. He reported
that due to the large number of members, the Network has trouble
with attendance generally and also has trouble achieving a
quorum for the conduct of its business. He noted that the
ability to conduct electronic meetings would assist in the
work of the Network.
to the request of the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation
Commission for a pilot project, it was noted that the Commission
is comprised of public officials representing several jurisdictions
which required at least 90 minutes of travel one-way (with
no traffic) to meetings in Manassas. The long commute to meetings
also adversely impacts citizens wishing to attend. The representative
of the Commission renewed the request for a pilot project
by the Commission under specified conditions as deemed appropriate
by the Council and the General Assembly to increase Commission
member participation and that of the interested citizens.
In response, the Virginia Press Association (VPA) and the
Virginia Coalition for Open Government (VCOG) stated that,
although they had not considered a pilot project specifically,
a compelling need had not been demonstrated to further expand
authorization for the conduct of electronic meetings. Noting
further that because of the extensive rewrite of the electronic
meetings law in 2005, the VPA and VCOG were opposed to further
relaxation of the electronic meeting rules.
noted that he drove 100 miles one-way to attend the subcommittee
meeting, but acknowledged that that is part of public service
and for which he is entitled to be reimbursed for his expenses.
He pointed out that the subcommittee needed to be mindful
of the chilling effect on recruitment of citizens willing
to participate in government. He asked the subcommittee to
consider whether the time spent in travel to a meeting could
be better utilized in service of the public. He stated, however,
that face-to-face meetings are very important to the democratic
process. Further, when in conflict, FOIA puts the burden on
government and not the public. Mr. Fifer indicated he, personally,
would like to see a pilot project or the availability of some
form of remote monitoring of meetings to give the public greater
access to meetings, including better utilization of existing
community college facilities.
Edwards stated that interest in the issue of electronic meetings
by local and regional public bodies would continue and at
some future date, the Council would have to revisit the issue.
He suggested, however, that for the present, the better course
is to live with the 2005 changes to the law and see how it
director of the Joint Commission on Technology and Science
(JCOTS) advised that JCOTS would work with the Council by
monitoring where the technology is available for the conduct
of electronic meetings. Currently, VDOT and the community
colleges have made specific times each month available for
legislative bodies to conduct electronic meetings.
to a question regarding the frequency of use of electronic
meetings by state public bodies, Council staff indicated that
it is unclear whether such meetings are being used but are
not being reported as required by law, or if state public
bodies are not conducting electronic meetings.
representative advised the subcommittee that with shrinking
budgets, VACO is encouraging regional cooperation. Authority
for conducting electronic meetings would enhance regional
cooperation and allow the affected citizen to more easily
monitor the work of regional groups.
on its discussion and the public comment received, the subcommittee
voted unanimously to recommend to the Council at its next
meeting that expanding the authority for the conduct of electronic
meetings to regional public bodies was premature at this time
in light of the significant relaxation of the procedural rules
for electronic meetings made in 2005. Further, the subcommittee
would recommend that the issue should be revisited next year
after some experience with the new rules as it was not insensitive
to the needs of regional governments.
History of § 2.2-3708
Electronic Communications Meetings
communication meetings prohibited (§ 2.1-343.1)
as result of Roanoke City School Board v. Times-World
Corp., 226 VA 185, September 9, 1983.
public bodies authorized to conduct two-year pilot program
(expiring July 1, 1991) for electronic communication meetings
in accordance with statutorily mandated procedures; such
meetings for political subdivisions and local public bodies
pilot program expanded to three-year program, expiring
July 1, 1992.(§ 2.1-343.1)
for state public bodies to conduct electronic communication
meetings made permanent (i.e., three-year sunset repealed).
of application of law (i.e., what public bodies may conduct
electronic communication meetings.
"Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit
the use of interactive audio or video means to expand
public participation" added.
for quorum physically assembled at one location added.
changes as result of 1999 rewrite of FOIA. (§ 2.1-343.1)
of the HJR 187/501 Joint Subcommittee Studying FOIA
changes as result of Title 2.1 revision into Title 2.2.
substantive changes made; renumbering of existing Code
sections in Title 2.2
changes as result of creation of the Virginia Information
Technologies Agency (VITA). (§ 2.2-3708)
rewrite of § 2.2-3708 to relax procedural requirements
of FOIA Council and JCOTS
Subcommittee members Edwards, Fifer and Miller were present
at the meeting. Subcommittee member Wiley was absent.