CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The University of Virginia's governing board needs the ability to meet informally so members can have open and frank discussions, which would lead to better decisions, the chairman of a foundations group said.
Jeffrey Walker, chairman of the Council of Foundations, said that he would not call his proposal "closed meetings" and that the Board of Visitors' decisions should remain public. But he believes more than two board members should be able to gather without having to formally declare a public meeting.
"People on the Board of Visitors just really haven't had a chance to sit with other people on the Board of Visitors and just have relaxed conversations," Walker told The Daily Progress ( http://bit.ly/R7DHlH).
The council's members represent more than a dozen of the university's separate alumni-supported foundations. As its chairman, Walker is working with the Board of Visitors on governance issues.
"Right now, the structure is laid out so that the rector really has most of the power, because you can't have these larger conversations without them being exposed to everyone's second-guessing, because they're publicly available," Walker said.
"What you want is an environment where people will challenge each other."
The summer crisis over the board's failed attempt to oust President Teresa Sullivan stemmed in part from the lack of such an environment, Walker said.
Joan Fenton of Charlottesville, an advocate for transparency on the board, said she was "horrified" by Walker's proposal when he suggested it during the board's September meeting.
"I think the Board of Visitors should spend their time lobbying for more funding for the school instead of lobbying to change a rule that they suddenly find makes them uncomfortable," she told the newspaper.
Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Augusta, who represents part of Albemarle County, said he does not believe the Freedom of Information Act should be changed. He is working on legislation that would require Board of Visitors members to have training in transparency and FOIA.
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said there is a reason for the two-person limit on informal gatherings by members of public bodies.
"We DON'T want members of a public body talking among themselves in greater numbers because the result is that by the time they're finished with all the back and forth amongst themselves, the decision has already been made" Rhyne wrote in an email to the newspaper.
Faculty Senate Chairman George Cohen said one key question would be what exceptions to the open-meetings law would be proposed.
Cohen said he has not been able to examine a complete proposal and he will wait for one before he weighs in on the matter.
Information from: The Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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