The Richmond School Board has cancelled a planned — but never publicly advertised — weekend leadership retreat in Charlottesville. Under Virginia law, government bodies are required to advertise public meetings at least three days in advance and to publish an agenda for those meetings.
Editor’s note: Since we originally published this story School Board Chairwoman Kimberly Bridges got back in touch with us. We’ve updated the article to reflect her comments.
The Richmond School Board has canceled a planned — but never publicly advertised — weekend leadership retreat in Charlottesville.
Under Virginia law, government bodies are required to advertise public meetings at least three days in advance and to publish an agenda for those meetings. Richmond Schools did not do that. As of 11:30am. Thursday, the board’s clerk had not yet published any official meeting notice on the School Board’s web site, and no notices had run in local print publications in previous days.
Maria Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, says she received a call from Angela Lewis, clerk of the Richmond School Board, early on Thursday afternoon asking for advice on whether the meeting could go ahead despite the failure to advertise.
The answer, Everett says, was yes and no.
“The definition of a [public] meeting is a gathering and a discussion of public business,” she says. “If they were all out playing golf and talking about their golf game, it’s not a meeting under FOIA.”
Everett advised Lewis that it would still be legal to hold the retreat, so long as the Board’s attorney was present to ensure conversation stayed far clear of anything related to official School Board business.
The published agenda for the Friday meeting included a closed session meeting, while both days of the retreat included an official call to order of a board session and an “open agenda” period. Agendas for both meetings were sent to board members just after 10:30am on Thursday morning.
The retreat agenda also involved team building exercises for the board members and, Everett says, she told Lewis that learning “how to get along as a group” doesn’t require public advertisement.
“It’s not a violation of FOIA,” Everett says, though the fact that the meeting is planned to take place in Charlottesville at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and so more of a hardship for the public to attend, “it’s in my opinion not the smartest thing you can do politically, but it’s not a violation of law.”
Apparently, Richmond leaders decided to take both her advice and her personal opinion.
“We don’t want a whiff of that,” says School Board Chairwoman Kimberly Bridges, who says the entire meeting, including the team building exercise, is now cancelled to avoid even the perception of impropriety. The plan now is to reschedule, she says. “We’ll just start over again and make sure everyone gets ample notice.”