The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will discuss a prohibition on electronic communications at its first meeting after the August break on Tuesday.
The proposed change to the board’s rules of order would prohibit 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 Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) inadvertently ignited a controversy by texting to members of the board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee at a meeting July 22. 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 the FOIA disclosure rules, and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Council said the case was new ground for FOIA law in the state.
“I don’t think that I’ve seen a court ruling on it anywhere,” said Virginia FOIA Council attorney Alan Gernhardt at the time. “On a practical level, this one’s just kind of weird, because they were actually having a meeting, there was notice, and they did include it in the minutes. I guess the question really becomes: Did one member improperly participate? And I don’t really know the answer to that.”
FOIA Council Executive Director Maria Everett agreed with Rogers that there was no FOIA violation, but did add that the texts are in the public record.
Buffington said in a statement at the time that government transparency is very important to him.
“If my exchange of text messages with individual members of the Board of Supervisors during last week’s Transportation and Land Use Committee meeting created a perception of wrongdoing to even one member of the public, then I am absolutely regretful,” Buffington wrote. “As is apparent from my text messages, my priority remains to effectively represent the people of the Blue Ridge District and Loudoun County.”