Topic #1 – Public Meetings

According to the Code, “Open Meeting or Public Meeting means a meeting at which the public may be present.” A gathering of 3 or more district directors to discuss SWCD business is considered a meeting.  If you think about it there are many meetings that meet that criteria, including committee and emergency meetings.  Remember, even if minutes are not recorded and no votes are taken, these meetings are still open meetings. However, a “…gathering of employees of a public body shall not be deemed a “meeting” subject to the provisions of this chapter.” For example, if the district hosts a field day and 3 or more directors are present, that does not mean it is a “meeting” that requires minutes be taken.

Topic #2 – Closed Meetings10412003_925525657482202_3612298290097561750_n

The Code states, “Closed Meeting means a meeting from which the public is excluded.” Closed Meetings are only allowed for certain purposes.  There are 39 purposes listed in the Code.  Examples include:  personnel matters, consultation with legal counsel, and discussion of special awards. There are also procedures that must be followed to convene into a closed meeting.  It starts with a motion from a director for the Board to go into a closed meeting.  This Closed Meeting Motionhas 3 requirements:  1.  Identify the subject matter.  2.  State the purpose of the closed meeting and 3.  Refer to the specific purpose that allows the closed meeting, this is the list of 39 items previously mentioned.

An example of when a district board might go into a closed meeting is when they are planning to discuss an employee’s job performance. During an open session the Chair might announce that the board needed to go into executive session (closed meeting) to discuss personnel issues. A motion to convene into executive session would be made by a director, seconded, and approved. It would be announced that the meeting was authorized under the Code of Virginia, Chapter 37 of Title 2.2 of The Virginia Freedom of Information Act, specifically 2.2-3711. This action would be documented in the official Board meeting Minutes and a form would also completed at the end of the session.

Topic #3:  Meeting Notices and Agendas

Lets first discuss meeting notices.

Citing from the Code, “Every public body shall give notice of the date, time, and location of its meetings by placing notice in a prominent public location at which notices are regularly posted (see examples within the Code)… …The notice shall be posted at least three working days prior to the meeting.” The District may submit an annual written notice of the set meeting dates and post it in a prominent public location at which notices are regularly posted.  However, if any changes are made to the day, time, or place, written notice of the changes must be displayed. For example, if your district is located in a USDA Service Center, a notice with the regular meeting date, time, and place should be posted on the bulletin board in the main lobby.  I know that as a district manager this is one of my responsibilities.  When the district changes its’ regular board meeting date, I post the meeting schedule change and also run a small announcement in the “Calendar of Events” section of the local newspaper.

District director should make sure that someone on staff is designated this responsibility.10440698_862431657124936_1348342036990304406_n

Now we will discuss Meeting Agendas.

At least one copy of all agenda packets and, unless exempt, all materials furnished to members of a public body for a meeting shall be made available for public inspection at the same time such documents are furnished to members of the public body.” (Code §2.2-3707(F))

Exempt Items include personnel records.  A complete list of exemptions is found in the Code §2.2-3705.1 – §2.2-3705.8.

Topic #4:  Electronic Communication Meeting

A quorum may not be achieved via electronic communication devices. This means that if three directors are necessary to have a quorum, three directors must be physically present at one location. A quorum would not be achieved if just two directors were physically present and the third director had telephoned into the meeting. However, due to recent changes with FOIA, if a quorum is established at one location directors are now allowed to participate in discussions and actually vote on items even if they are not physically present, but rather communicating via an electronic device such as a telephone or video. In the past this was not permitted and although a director could join by phone he/she was previously required to relinquish the right to vote and not participate in discussion.

Topic #5:  Minutes

Minutes must be recorded at all open meetings.  When making committee appointments this should be considered because committees with 3 or more directors are considered open meetings, thus minutes would need to be required. It is also important to remember that all other records of open meetings including draft minutes and audio recorded records are considered public records.