Two Virginia openness news items caught our eye today.
In the not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper category, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (toward the bottom of the article) that Hanover County’s Board of Supervisors did not discuss their proposal to weaken the Freedom of Information Act in their legislative agenda open meeting yesterday morning. As you may recall, Hanover’s Board proposed allowing more than two members to meet in non-public meetings, and fortunately, the FOIA Council declined to consider it, seeing it as the unjustified and unwise proposal that it is. Here’s hoping that next year, once it’s no longer necessary to save face, the Hanover Board will let it go. (And perhaps learn how to use e-mail and public meetings in the meantime.)
On the other hand, sometimes a Virginia locality really gets open government right. This week, that was Newport News, which received commendation from the Daily Press for holding a public meeting to allow citizen interaction with the finalists for chief of police (H/T @opengovva’s daily Transparency News). In our book, this type of interaction should be the rule, not the exception, for high-profile but unelected public officials.
It’s worth noting that FOIA’s personnel records exemption, found in Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(1), allows the custodians of personnel records to release them except where release is prohibited by some other law. Likewise, FOIA’s provision allowing public bodies to interview candidates and discuss personnel matters privately, found in Va. Code § 2.2-3711(A)(1), is an authorization, not a requirement. In short, with personnel matters as with most FOIA exemptions, public bodies generally have discretion to choose to govern in sunlight. Citizens should demand that public bodies do so for matters that have a significant public impact and should commend those public bodies, like Newport News, that get it right.