Discussion of a controversial $2.3 billion Strategic Investment Fund in closed session during a University Virginia Board of Visitor’s meeting appears to be a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — assuming events unfolded as alleged in a letter by an attorney representing former Rector Helen Dragas, concluded Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council in a staff advisory opinion released today.
Virginia Beach attorney Kevin E. Martingayle asked for the opinion in a letter describing Dragas’s version of events at the board meeting, her last before being rotated off the board. In that meeting, she dissented from a vote to certify that the closed session had been held in compliance with the FOIA.
The answer to your question is therefore “yes,” it would be a violation to hold a closed meeting to discuss a fund when the motion to convene the closed meeting was for purposes of discussion of personnel, legal matters and litigation.
The open-meeting exemptions allowed for “personnel” and “legal matters” do not cover “general policy or other matters that may eventually have legal consequences,” Everett wrote.
However, the law does not set forth any remedial action to be taken by the public body, in this case the UVa Board of Visitors. The statutory remedy for a FOIA violation, Everett wrote, is “a petition for mandamus or injunction supported by an affidavit showing good cause.”
While University of Virginia officials have stoutly defended both the justification for the $2.3 billion fund and the manner in which it was approved by the board, they have met Dragas’s FOIA charge with silence.
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