They Should Know Better…

The Sheriff of Nottingham of Prince William County strikes again.  Earlier, he / she / they raised questions about the food and alcoholic beverage bills run up by the BOCS and county staff at dinners between afternoon and evening board sessions.  This time, the accusation leveled centers on these dinners violating the Virginia Open Meetings Law.

This is a serious matter and something that I’ve wondered about for a while.  I’ve been on my homeowners association Board of Directors for the past 9 years and president of it for the last 8.  This is one area of the law that both our HOA Board and the BOCS must comply with albeit under separate sections of the Virginia Code, so I have more than a passing familiarity with it.

I simply cannot believe that the County Attorney would allow for such dinners to take place between board sessions.  She obviously knows they are going on since they are now being announced during the meetings (which, by the way, does NOT satisfy the notice requirement if that is the intent of the announcement.)  Furthermore, the County Executive has allegedly attended these dinners herself.

Even if the members of the BOCS were to completely check their offices at the restaurant door and only talk about the weather, sports and family, there is still a perception problem since the public isn’t present at the table to know for certain that public matters aren’t being discussed and decisions arrived at.  The attorney for our HOA as well as our property manager advised us long ago not to ever have a quorum / majority of our Board members in one place outside of a meeting even if it purely is a social event.  As a result, we studiously ensure that if anyone is having a BBQ or a New Year’s Eve party or whatever that we NEVER have more than 4 out of our 9 directors there in one place.

Why?  Because it is the right thing to do.  Because we believe that when we discuss the business of the association that we have a responsibility to our homeowners who pay assessments to keep them well-informed about how we spend their money and to do so in an open process that they can observe — our monthly board meeting.

The standard for our county government should not be lower than that.

Additional background information on the Open Meetings Law, including remedies and punishments for violations by public bodies, can be found here and here.

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