In another case of public officials not wanting citizens to document their public meetings, a Virginia woman was escorted out the Loudoun County Board of Equalization meeting Tuesday evening after she snapped a photo of two board members conducting official business.
Beverly Bradford, who freelances for a local news site but was not on assignment, was ordered by BOE Chairman Scott Littner to either “turn over or delete the image,” according to the Ashburn Patch.
Bradford refused, stating that she had the right to document the meeting under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
That was when a sheriff’s deputy arrived.
Bradford said she attempted to hand over her equipment and purse to the deputy at which point she was asked to step outside to discuss the matter further. She first objected, stating she needed to hear the meeting. However, she relented, feeling she had little choice. Bradford described an intimidating scene with her sitting while BOE Chairman Scott Littner and the deputy stood over her and interrogated her.
The deputy at least had enough sense to inform Littner that he did not have the authority to make her delete the image, but he escorted her from the room anyway.
Bradford was told she needed advance permission to record the meeting, which contradicts state law, according to the Ashburn Patch.
Nevertheless, she had informed a county official earlier that morning that she planned to cover the meeting.
The Board of Equalization is a public body that reviews property assessments.
The BOE’s own administrative procedures grant residents the right to photograph or record meetings: “Any person seeking to photograph, film, record, or otherwise reproduce a portion of a BOE meeting required to be open may do so, as long as the placement of the equipment does not interfere with the meeting,” the procedures read.
However, the bylaws go on to say “The BOE must be notified prior to the commencement of photographing, filming recording or other reproduction of any portion of a meeting.”
Those bylaws seem to overstep state law. The Board of Equalization qualifies as a public body subject to the rules Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, according a 1984 opinion from the Virginia Attorney General as well as a document on the state’s FOIA Advisory Council website.
Referencing those opinions, Alan Gernhardt, an attorney with the FOIA Advisory Council, said his reading is that the BOE cannot escape the FOIA rules for public bodies. “They’re a public body,” he said.