This blog includes news about City Hall, city schools and other 22401 news.Pamela Gould reports on City Hall. You can reach her at 540-735-1972 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Robyn Sidersky reports on city schools. You can reach her at 540-374-5413 or email@example.com.
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HFFI’s “closed meeting” comment
If you tuned into City Council’s discussion of what to do with 1108 Winchester St. last week, you might have raised an eyebrow when HFFI Advocacy Director Joseph Fordham told council members that the Planning Commission voted on the matter in a “closed meeting.”
If that were true, it would be a violation of state open records laws, but it’s not. I was there, Fordham was there and so were a few other interested citizens. The meeting was down in City Council chambers just like every other open Planning Commission meeting (In fact, in the two and a half years I have been here, I can’t remember the Planning Commission ever going into closed session.).
Fordham made a mistake that I’ve seen many times in five years of sitting in government meetings. By “closed,” he meant, “closed to public comment”–the meeting was not a public hearing. But in the FOIA-governed government world, a “closed” meeting without a legal reason is a big no-no, and Planning Commissioners felt Fordham had impugned their integrity by accusing them of an illegal action.
Commission chairman Vic Ramoneda wrote HFFI President Sarah Poore a letter (read it here) expressing “outrage” about Fordham’s comments.
It reads in part:
“Mr. Fordham’s libelous remarks before City Council and a televised audience on September 11th, implying that the Planning Commission had violated Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, maligned the character and integrity of every member of the Planning Commission, as well as city staff. The Planning Commissioners are upset and disappointed, as well they should be. This is the finest group of volunteers I have ever had the privilege to work with. That the integrity of the Planning Commissioners has been questioned by a false accusation is deeply unsettling.”
Ramoneda demanded a public apology and called Fordham’s behavior unprofessional. Fordham offered the following apology yesterday morning via e-mail to the City Council members and City Clerk:
“Good Morning Mayor Tomzak, City Council and Planning Commission,
I wanted to extend my sincerest apology regarding using the phrase
“closed meeting” on Tuesday night last, at the City Council Meeting.
I spoke in ignorance and only wished to convey that it was closed for
public comment, and are sorry for any misunderstanding this may have
caused you. I sincerely hope we can put this behind us and work
together for the common good and continue to collaborate on many new
projects in the future.”