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Virginia’s FOIA Advisory Council declined Hanover County’s request to review the state’s definition of a public meeting Sept. 12.
Hanover County officials requested changing Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act to allow up to three Board members to meet in private to discuss county business without having to advertise it as a public meeting.
Chairman W. Canova Peterson IV, Mechanicsville supervisor, said the Council’s decision didn’t come as a surprise, adding he and the county will continue pushing for changing the state’s open meeting laws.
“We opened the conversation and this was just the first discussion of it,” Peterson said.
At a July 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisors unanimously approved a proposal requesting the General Assembly change the definition of the state law in hopes of making a “more efficient government” by allowing Board members to meet privately in small groups.
Eventually, the county changed the proposal by requesting the FOIA Council review the meeting rules.
Under current law, no more than two members of the seven-member board can meet at a time to discuss public matters. If more than two supervisors want to meet at a time, they are required by the law to notify the public three days before the meeting.
The county’s request has received some opposition, so the Council’s decision comes as a relief to some.
Megan Rhyne, executive director at the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said she was surprised by the Council’s move. At the meeting earlier this month, Rhyne said she had planned to contribute to any discussions on the topic.
“It was heartening for the Council to come to its decision on its own without any input,” Rhyne said.
Rhyne added that despite the intentions of Hanover’s proposal, she believes allowing supervisors to meet privately could “interfere” with the public’s right to know county business.
Peterson said the topic would be brought before the Virginia Association of Counties in the near future.
“This is not something we thought the county could do on its own,” Peterson said.
“And the conversation goes on.”