FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
August 9, 2006, Richmond
Electronic Meetings Subcommittee held its first meeting on
August 9, 2006. All members of the Subcommittee were present.1
John Edwards, chair of the Subcommittee identified the following
issues that would be considered by the Subcommittee, namely:
Authorizing regional public bodies to conduct electronic
2. Clarifying which, if any, political subdivisions should
be authorized to conduct electronic meetings; and
3. Relaxation of the physical quorum requirement.
Houck suggested that the Subcommittee also examine whether
a member of a public body who, at the last minute before a
meeting, is unable to attend due to personal or other emergency
circumstance should be allowed to participate in the meeting.
Currently, the member can only monitor the meeting and not
participate, and would be counted as not having attended the
issue of the physical quorum requirement, arguments were made
that to attract high quality people into public service, the
quorum requirements for electronic meetings should be relaxed
to only three members of the public body. In this way, members'
busy schedules and travel could be lessened through the use
of available technology. It was pointed out that travel time
in Virginia's population centers is increasing and the cost
of traveling is likewise increasing at the public's expense.
The law needs to adapt to technology and not deny its existence.
Landon of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government reminded
the subcommittee that the history of electronic meetings law
dated back to the 1980's where after the Roanoke School Board
case, electronic meetings were prohibited in FOIA. Since that
time, we have been wrestling to strike the correct balance.
Mr. Landon stated that over time the rules have been relaxed
and the use of technology has been encouraged to enhance public
access. He suggested that what was never addressed is the
definition of a quorum and perhaps there could relief in that
area. Roger Wiley pointed out that the law usually specifies
the requirements for a quorum and noted that it is not a solution
to the problem to say that it takes fewer people to conduct
business. Mr. Wiley opined that there is no sound justification
for the physical quorum requirement and no logical distinction
between state and regional public bodies as far as electronic
meetings were concerned. Mr. Wiley stated that the physical
quorum requirement for local public bodies was fine as the
members all live within the same jurisdiction.
was consensus among the subcommittee that face-to-face meetings
are preferred because members get to know one another, there
is better, focused participation by the members, the benefit
of visual cues, and the impact of public in attendance on
the proceedings. The dynamics of a meeting do change in the
electronic meeting setting. The subcommittee agreed that the
public's right to know about the operation of government is
paramount and should not be minimized to make it convenient
for members of a public body. Accepting a position as a member
of a public body comes with responsibilities. It was suggested
that a narrowly defined situation, such as an emergency, which
prevents a member from attending a meeting on the scheduled
date, may be workable.
Wiley stated that generally when a quorum is not met, the
meeting is not usually rescheduled; instead the meeting is
skipped. Clearly, this is not good for the conduct of the
public business. Mr. Wiley stated that with many of the regional
public bodies, there is no public in attendance. He noted,
however, that relaxation of the electronic meeting rules on
that basis was a slippery slope and did not favor it.
Fifer indicated that while he is very sympathetic to the travel
issues, the burden is and should be on the government. He
opined that the argument of attracting quality members justifying
relaxation of electronic meeting rules was not a compelling
Subcommittee reaffirmed its previous agreement that a physical
quorum should be maintained in the law. There was consensus
of the Subcommittee, however, on the following issues:
the notice of electronic meetings from seven to three working
regional public bodies to hold electronic meetings (although
how to define such bodies is still under discussion); and
members to participate telephonically in a meeting in the
event of a last minute emergency that prevents such member
from attending the meeting, provided that a quorum is physically
assembled at the main meeting location. Such member's eligibility
to participate in this way would be limited to a specified
number of meetings per calendar year.
Subcommittee directed staff to prepare a draft for its review
that incorporates the points of consensus. The draft will
be posted to the FOIA Council website. The next meeting of
the Subcommittee is set for Wednesday, August 23, 2006, immediately
upon the adjournment of the FOIA Council meeting.
John Edwards, Chair, Senator Houck, Roger Wiley, Stewart Bryan,
E.M. Miller, Craig Fifer, Mary Yancey Spencer, and Alan Wurtzel.