The Loudoun Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday night to not adopt a prohibition on members texting each other about agenda items from the dais.
The proposed change to the board’s rules of order would have prohibited board members “from communicating electronically (email, text message or similar means) with other Board Members during Board business meetings, Public Hearings, committee meetings, or other meetings of the Board, about topics that are on that meeting’s agenda.”
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) unintentionally ignited a controversy in July by texting to members of the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee during a meeting. Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10), who was acting as an attorney representing Harris Teeter in an application, said that was “a blatant violation of the Freedom of Information Act.” County Attorney Leo Rogers said there was no violation of FOIA disclosure rules.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) repeated that assertion Tuesday night, adding that although there was no violation of Virginia’s open meetings law, it is important to also maintain the appearance of transparency.
“I think that if the public perceives that we are having a meeting inside of a meeting by texting each other about the item before us while on the dais, that’s not a good perception, and it’s questions of transparency,” Randall said. She also said she would prefer the county board take action to forestall more draconian rules from the General Assembly.
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), who made the motion to adopt the new rule, agreed.
“I believe it’s not only important, I believe it’s imperative that we do this, and agreed with Chair Randall that we don’t want it done to us by the General Assembly,” Volpe said.
Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) said he opposed the rule “vehemently,” arguing that it would make it more difficult for the board to act.
“I will tell you, I text with almost every single member of this board during meetings,” Meyer said. “All those texts are FOIA-able. Feel free to FOIA them.”
Meyer moved to table the motion indefinitely, seconded by Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), shutting down any further discussion of the new rule. Motions to table indefinitely are not open for debate, but must be voted upon immediately. Randall, Volpe, and Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) voted against the motion to table. Buffington abstained.
Meyer, Letourneau, and Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) supported the motion to table.
After the meeting, Letourneau said he felt the rules change was an overreaction.
“I think it’s a little bit problematic for the Board of Supervisors to start telling supervisors who they can text and about what topics as part of the Rules of Order, especially because it is perfectly permissible for board members to have one-on-one conversations during the meeting,” Letourneau said.