Freedom of Information Advisory Council
on Electronic Meetings reminded the council that at the last full council
meeting, representatives from the Clerks Offices of the Senate and
the House raised several issues concerning electronic meeting requirements
and requirements for notice of the meetings. The subcommittee reported
that its meeting was well attended by representatives of the press, public,
and state and local government.
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.
- Requiring 30 days
notice for an electronic meeting is onerous. Often meetings are not
planned 30 days in advance. Also, various situations may arise closer
to the meeting day, such as personal emergencies or other circumstances
that prevent members of a public body from being physically present
at a meeting.
- Another issue
is the limitation of allowing only 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.
- An emergency provision
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 malfunctioneven 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 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.
also discussed the notice requirements for all meetings and not just electronic
meetings. Currently, posting is required in two physical locations, and
posting electronically is encouraged. It was noted that the
Internet is now a place where interested persons 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.
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
- 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 person to contact
during the meeting to notify others that a site has lost audio or audio/video
- Include a requirement
that state executive public bodies post notice of all meetings on the
Internet, in addition to at the two physical locations. These public
bodies must already post minutes, and as of July 1, post FOIA rights
and responsibilities information on their websites. Local governing
bodies will be encouraged to post notice on the Internet, as there is
no current requirement that local governing bodies have websites.
the clerks offices will examine the possibility of establishing
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.
The Geographic Information
System (GIS) Subcommittee reported that its initial meeting was well attended
by representatives of the media, the public, and state and local government
officials, including many with GIS responsibilities. The subcommittee
advised that it had reviewed the provisions of SB 182 that was referred
to the council for further examination. Senate Bill 182 would have excluded
from the mandatory disclosure requirements of FOIA maps contained in a
geographic information system that are developed from a combination of
high resolution technologies, including digital orthophotography, digital
terrain models or related ancillary proprietary data produced by any local
governing body or by the Virginia Geographic Information Network (VGIN)
division of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
agreed that SB 182 as drafted should not be recommended. However, the
subcommittee felt that the issues raised by the bill were worthy of further
discussion and that, relying on the specific GIS knowledge of the interested
parties, perhaps a resolution of the issues relating to the accessibility
of GIS records could be achieved. The issues identified included (i) whether
portions of GIS records are adequately exempted under A57 of Sec. 2.2-3705;
(ii) what additional exemption language may be needed to enable state
and local public bodies to receive the data necessary for the preparation
of GIS maps from utilities and other third parties; and (iii) whether
GIS records can/should be copyrighted and the extent that copyrighting
protects against further commercial use of GIS data obtained from public
At the next meeting
of the GIS Subcommittee, to be held on July 13, 2004, at 11 a.m., staff
will be providing some additional information concerning other states
approaches on this issue and the impact of copyright law on the accessibility
of public records.
Staff informed the
council about the model rights and responsibilities document it had prepared
in response to HB 358 (see above). Staff stated that all cabinet secretaries
had been sent a letter in May informing them of the model rights and responsibilities
document prepared by staff, along with an offer of further assistance
made to any agency in the respective secretariats to help in tailoring
the model document to the requirements of the specific agencies. After
sufficient time for review and comment by the council, the model rights
and responsibilities document will be posted on the councils website.
It was suggested that the model rights and responsibilities document also
be made available to local public bodies even though the provisions of
HB 358 apply only to state public bodies.
Staff advised that
the planning of the annual statewide FOIA workshops is underway. The workshops
are tentatively scheduled for October in five locations, including Wytheville,
Harrisonburg, Fairfax, Richmond, and Tidewater. Staff also advised the
council that for the period March 29 through June 8, 2004, staff has responded
to 243 e-mail and telephone requests for assistance and has written seven
The discussion of
the council then turned to the issue of allowable charges made under FOIA,
noting that such charges are often a contentious issue between a requester
and a public body. Concern was raised that the only available remedy for
disputes over charges was to the courts. It was noted that such disputes
should come first to the council for resolution as an inexpensive, common-sense
alternative to lawsuits. Staff advised that it frequently facilitates
resolution of charge disputes.
The next meetings
of the council have been set for September 16, 2004, and December 2, 2004,
each at 2:00 p.m. in Richmond.
The Hon. R. Edward
Maria J.K. Everett
of Legislative Services > Legislative
Record > 2004
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