Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is the Reston Planning Task Force Violating Virginia Law?

If one digs around in the Fairfax County website for the Reston Master Plan Special Study Task Force webpage and then follows the link to the “Community Workshops and Task Force Meetings,” one can find out that the Reston Task Force is having a “community meeting on guiding planning principles for Reston” in the Langston Hughes Intermediate School cafeteria tomorrow, Tuesday, January 26, at 7PM. According to that posting, the agenda is “to be posted Jan 22.” It has not been posted yet. Moreover, there is no notice of the meeting on the County’s public meeting calendar. And, as of this Monday mid-afternoon writing, no agenda or other materials have been posted for tomorrow evening’s meeting and Task Force sources indicate they have not received meeting materials either.

Here is what the Virginia Freedom of Information Act law says about public meeting notifications and agendas (2.2-3707):

C. Every public body shall give notice of the date, time, and location of its meetings by placing the notice in a prominent public location at which notices are regularly posted and in the office of the clerk of the public body, or in the case of a public body that has no clerk, in the office of the chief administrator. All state public bodies subject to the provisions of this chapter shall also post notice of their meetings on their websites and on the electronic calendar maintained by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency commonly known as the Commonwealth Calendar. Publication of meeting notices by electronic means by other public bodies shall be encouraged. The notice shall be posted at least three working days prior to the meeting. Notices for meetings of state public bodies on which there is at least one member appointed by the Governor shall state whether or not public comment will be received at the meeting and, if so, the approximate point during the meeting when public comment will be received….

F. At least one copy of all agenda packets and, unless exempt, all materials furnished to members of a public body for a meeting shall be made available for public inspection at the same time such documents are furnished to the members of the public body.

Please note that, as of mid-afternoon Monday, the date, time, & location (new today) of tomorrow’s meeting has been posted on the Task Force website, but even there it is buried and not “in a prominent public location” either physically or digitally. Also, as of this morning, the notification is not posted on the County’s public meetings calendar as “encouraged” by the state law and consistent with County requirements. Clearly, full notification was not given “at least three working days prior to the meeting.”

Given that tomorrow evening is suppose to be a meeting to receive community thinking on planning principles to guide Reston’s future development, the absence of details on both substance and process denies citizens as well as the Task Force the opportunity to prepare for the meeting. What background materials, if any, will the Task Force (and presumably the public) receive to understand the role of planning principles in the plan amendment process? How will the Task Force receive community inputs? May we expect a series of community speakers, a bunch of focus groups, polling of proposals, or something else?

In contrast to the apparent lack of effort to make Task Force meetings known, the Reston 2020 Committee, which welcomes Task Force member participation, has complied with state law and county policy in providing the county timely advance notice of its public meetings (which is all of them) for it to post on the County public meeting calendar. The committee does this so that Task Force members who may wish to attend can do so and remain in compliance with the Virginia FOIA law.

So, while a citizens group has made substantial effort to be inclusive, the public and apparently the Task Force itself are not receiving timely and adequate notification of the Task Force’s meetings, their purpose, and their agenda. This may not mean that the Task Force is violating the letter of Virginia’s FOIA law, but it is certainly not consistent with keeping the public fully informed in a timely manner. At the minimum, this situation leaves the Task Force open to criticism for not being more open and forthcoming.

Terry Maynard
Reston, VA

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