Pocket guide to Rappahannock County government

Confusion, if not lawsuits, periodically interrupt the proceedings of the Rappahannock County government. The Board of Supervisors, in particular, have wrestled with local and state (FOIA) rules and regulations surrounding its meeting notices, agendas, procedures, even the posting of minutes (the latter improved immensely of late). You name it, there’s puzzlement.

While there are hundreds of pages of Rappahannock County and Commonwealth of Virginia regulations and codes that public officials must — but sometimes don’t — abide by, the most pertinent procedural rules as they affect the function of the Rappahannock County government have been compiled here by the Rappahannock News.

First the local regulations, followed by state codes:

Chapter 30, Article 1 and beyond, Rules of Procedure for the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors on Agendas (Source, Administrative Legislation for Rappahannock County, 1988):

— An agenda shall be prepared by the Clerk to the Board of Supervisors one (1) week prior to a regularly scheduled meeting. All parties wishing to have items placed on the agenda will contact the Clerk to the Board by one (1) week prior to a regularly scheduled meeting.

(Editor’s note: Brenda Garton, who until last month was interim administrator of Rappahannock County, told this newspaper the county has chosen not to follow the above “one week” time requirement for agendas because it’s simply “not feasible.”)

— The agenda, when completed, shall be mailed to the members of the Board of Supervisors no later than the Wednesday prior to a regularly scheduled meeting. The agenda shall be available for inspection in the County Clerk’s office, the Building, Zoning and Administration office and the Courthouse. A preliminary agenda will be provided to the Rappahannock News no later than Tuesday before publication.

— The items listed on the agenda shall be known as the “orders of the day” and shall be the only scheduled subjects for the consideration of the Board of Supervisors; provided, however, that each agenda shall include a public comment or like period, of up to one-half hour, during which persons may make public comment on the proceedings, bring matters to the Board’s attention, etc. No such matter may be brought into discussion by the Board without a motion being made, seconded and passed by a majority of a quorum of the Board. Speakers may, at the Chairman’s discretion, be asked to sign up for public comment time or to limit their remarks to fit time constraints.

— Should the Chairman or any member of the Board have a matter which he or she feels needs to be brought to the Board’s attention, but which is not on the agenda as part of the orders of the day, he or she may, at the appropriate time, present such matters to the Board as new business and move to consider it. Such motion must be seconded and approved by a majority of a quorum of the Board for the matter to be considered.

— Subsequent to the preparation of the agenda, any Constitutional Officer or the Board’s administrative assistant may bring a matter to the Board’s attention, and the Board, in order to consider such matters, shall similarly proceed.

— Unless a matter appears on the orders of the day, no action shall be taken by the Board on any matter unless by unanimous consent of all Board members then present. If such unanimous consent cannot be obtained, then the matter shall be continued over as an agenda item to the next scheduled Board meeting or such other meeting as a majority of the Board shall decide (added 1992).

Requirements for conducting meetings under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); 29-500, notice requirements for regular, special and emergency meetings:

— For regular meetings, the public body must give notice of the date, time and location of the meeting by placing a written notice in a prominent location at which notices are regularly posted, in the office of the clerk of the particular public body or, if there is no clerk, the office of the chief administrator for the public body. The notice must be posted at least three working days prior to the meeting. A public body must give notice of the time, date, and location of its meetings, even if the only item on the agenda for the meeting is a closed meeting. The failure of the public body to post the written notice of a meeting required by Virginia Code § 2.2-3707(C) renders any vote taken at the meeting null and void.

— For special meetings, the public body must give the notice required above that is reasonable under the circumstances, and it must be given contemporaneously with the notice to the members of the public body conducting the meeting. Further, the rules of the public body may require, for example, that the secretary of those bodies notify the general news media (the Rappahannock News, were this the case) of the time and place of the special meeting and the matters to be considered.

— For emergency meetings, the governing body must give notice that is reasonable under the circumstances, and it must be given contemporaneously with the notice to the members of the public body conducting the meeting. In addition to posting notice, notice of all meetings must also be provided directly to any person who files an annual written request for notification with the public body. The notice must be in writing, but may be provided by electronic means if the person requesting notice does not object. Finally, at least one copy of all agenda packets and, unless exempt from public disclosure under FOIA or other state law, all materials furnished to members of a public body for a meeting must be made available for public inspection at the same time those documents are furnished to the members of the public body. FOIA also encourages posting notices by electronic means.

— All meetings of public bodies shall be open, except when provided otherwise by Virginia codes.

— No meeting shall be conducted through telephonic, video, electronic or other communication means where the members are not physically assembled to discuss or transact public business, except as provided by certain state codes.

— Any person may photograph, film, record or otherwise reproduce any portion of a meeting required to be open. The public body conducting the meeting may adopt rules governing the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming or recording a meeting to prevent interference with the proceedings, but shall not prohibit or otherwise prevent any person from photographing, filming, recording, or otherwise reproducing any portion of a meeting required to be open. No public body shall conduct a meeting required to be open in any building or facility where such recording devices are prohibited.

— Minutes, including draft minutes, and all other records of open meetings, including audio or audio/visual records shall be deemed public records and subject to the provisions of this chapter.

About John McCaslin 450 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.