Tempest in a Task Force

Tempest in a Task Force

Public will be able to videotape task force meetings.

Members of the public will be permitted to videotape the proceedings of a citizen task force studying a piece of land at the intersection of Hunter Mill and Sunset Hills roads.

The Board of Supervisors created the task force to study a 314-acre parcel currently zoned for low-density housing and to consider if the area should have higher density. During the first meeting of the task force on June 7, Bruce Bennett, whose wife Jody is on the committee and lives near the area in question, brought a personal video camera to tape the proceedings.

The committee discussed not permitting Bennett to tape the meeting. However under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Bennett has a right under to record the proceedings. He asserted that right.

During the meeting, Patricia Stevens, facilitator of the task force, said that the County Attorney’s office stated the task force could elect not to record its proceedings.

The Office of the County Attorney had no documents concerning the issue, according to a written response to a Connection request for a copy of the opinion.

Had any such documents existed, however, they would not have been provided, since they would have been protected from release by the attorney-client privilege, the response stated.

Stevens later explained that the County Attorney had issued an opinion about whether the committee was obliged to tape itself. During the initial stages of any new task force, Stevens said that it must decide how to keep its records. “One of the questions you ask is: ‘How do we want these meetings recorded?’” Stevens said.

While the task force must keep some record of its proceedings, it can choose how it will keep that record. The task force decided to record meetings through minutes which will be kept by a county employee.

The confusion resulted from a distinction between the task force’s option not to tape itself, and a citizen’s option to record the actions of a public body. “The response that had been received was to a different question,” Stevens said.

Bennett was pleased to find out that the taping would not continue to be an issue. “It’s unfortunate that we had that confrontation,” he said.