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For some reason, the state’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council isn’t interested in shutting the public out of more meetings.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Hmm, on second thought . . . easing regulations for open government meetings is still a bad idea.
The Hanover County Board of Supervisors first broached the topic in July when, by unanimous vote, it asked the General Assembly to let larger groups of local elected officials meet privately, without public notice, to hash out public business.
It would be so much more efficient, members reasoned — not to mention less embarrassing than kicking around sometimes stupid ideas before everyone and his brother.
The wisdom of which sounded so self-evident, it seems, the board determined — apparently with no sense of irony — that the idea warranted calm, deliberative study. So it asked the help of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council.
The council was created in the 1990s to guard the public’s right to know after Virginia witnessed a steady erosion of the state’s Freedom of Information Act through exemptions to its open meetings and open records provisions.
It should come as no surprise, at least outside of Hanover County, that the council this month declined the board’s request to study possible legislation to change the definition of a meeting of a public governing body: now any gathering of three or more members, or a quorum.
The seven-member Hanover board could get a lot more business done, its members contend, if the law would limit the restriction to a quorum, allowing three of them to meet outside the public eye.
News of the council’s rejection comes from The Virginia Press Association’s latest newsletter, which reports this exchange between County Attorney Sterling Rives III and Sen. Richard Stuart, FOIA Council chairman, on the drawbacks of open meetings:
Rives: “The setting is not conducive to throwing out different ideas and debating each other on those ideas. As we might do in a private setting, you come up with all these ideas and then five minutes later you say, ‘Oh, no, that was stupid, let’s not do that.’ Public officials are reluctant to do that in front of the press.”
Stuart: “I do it every day when we’re in session, make a complete fool of myself.”
Not that day, though. When no one on the council moved to take up the study, Stuart acceded, “Unless something is really sensitive and there is a real need [for a closed session], things just go so much better when it’s right out there in the open.”
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