Numerous phone-in Charlottesville council meetings held before policy instated

Charlottesville city councilors appear to have improperly phoned in to numerous meetings, including those dealing with hiring of an interim city manager.

In August, the council passed a policy — apparently for the first time — allowing councilors to phone in to meetings in certain situations. Since 2014, state law has required local public bodies to have such a policy in place if they wish for members to be able to participate in meetings by phone. According to minutes obtained in a public records request, councilors participated in and voted by phone during several special meetings in July during the search for an interim city manager.

On July 18, according to the minutes, Councilor Heather Hill participated by phone and voted to meet in closed session to discuss the interim manager candidates.

On July 20, Hill and Councilor Wes Bellamy phoned in and voted.

At a meeting July 24, Councilors Mike Signer and Kathy Galvin were the only members of the five-person council who were physically present. Hill, Bellamy and Mayor Nikuyah Walker called in from remote locations and each voted by phone.

On July 31, when the council appointed Mike Murphy to the role, Hill called in but did not vote. Walker was available by phone again but was under the impression she could not listen in, according to statements made at subsequent council meetings.

“The overall issue to me is that this law has been on the books for four years. So how did Charlottesville miss it?” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

On July 24, community member Louis Schultz asked Clerk of Council Paige Rice about the lack of a policy, and he brought up the apparent violation at the council’s Aug. 6 meeting. He took issue with the removal of minutes for the July 18, 20 and 24 meetings from the council agenda, and with the lack of a physical quorum at the July 24 meeting. (Read more…)