|NMU||VIRGINIA||Freedom of Information|
Baseball stadium plans revealed to press, not protesters
- A baseball stadium authority’s denial of public access to a press conference on new stadium plans likely runs afoul of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, an advisory council opinion says.
June 11, 2003 — Having fewer than three members of a governing board present means that the public was properly excluded from a press conference unveiling site proposals for a publicly financed major league ballpark, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority said June 4.
The statement is in reaction to a May 30 opinion by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council that the baseball authority likely violated the state’s open meetings law after members of the NoArlingtonStadium.org coalition were denied access to a March 29 press conference.
“Clearly the press conference related to the public business of the authority because it was the forum announcing potential stadium sites and financing schemes — the statutorily stated purpose for the authority’s creation,” advisory council Executive Director Maria Everett wrote in the opinion. “Even if less than three members were present at the press conference, it may still constitute a meeting under FOIA.”
The opinion is based on information provided to the council by NoArlingtonStadium, which requested an advisory ruling. The coalition is opposed to the state using public money to build the stadium in Arlington, Va., where three of the five proposals for a stadium are located.
The baseball authority does not dispute that the Freedom of Information Act applies to its meetings and records, Chairman Michael Frey said in a press release. The authority is a nine-member, government-appointed body whose responsibilities include selecting a site for a major league baseball franchise.
But Frey said the three authority press conferences held to date in 2003 were not “meetings” under state law because fewer than three authority members attended each session. If press conferences are not meetings, then they do not have to be open to the public, he said.
The law’s definition of a “meeting” requires three members of a public body to be present, or a quorum if the body has fewer than three members. The definition of a “public body” includes subcommittees and other entities designated to act for the public body.
The purpose of the press conference is to publicize details of the public’s business, and denying access “appears to violate the spirit of openness of FOIA, even if it may not violate the letter of the law,” the council’s opinion said.
Baseball authority spokesman Brian Hannigan said the authority has scrupulously followed open meetings law. He defended the authority’s decision to keep out members of NoArlingtonStadium because they were “emotional, noisy and confrontational” during a demonstration outside the hotel where the March 29 press conference was held.
NoArlingtonStadium co-founder Sarah Summerville said only two coalition members attempted to attend the press conference. She was allowed to attend a subsequent press conference.
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press