Each of the committees — called work groups by the governor’s office — includes McDonnell staffers and at least three commission members. But none of the four elected Democrats appointed by McDonnell to the blue-ribbon commission were named to any of the work groups.
Several members of the public have complained to the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council about the work groups since realizing the panels had met this summer without providing public notice.
Maria Everett, executive director of the FOIA Council, said that if three or more members of the commission are meeting about government reform, then “it’s turned into a commission meeting.”
“They are in violation of the law,’’ Everett said. “Politically, it smells bad. So much of this is public relations. The idea that the government reform commission is not transparent, it raises questions.”
Virginia law states that, in general, public bodies must post meeting notices in public places, such as buildings on Capitol Square, and on the online Commonwealth Calendar if more than three members are gathering. The commission is considered a public body because the state funds its $15,000 annual budget.
The commission had a previous set of committees, which are no longer meeting, that did advertise their meetings and post meeting notices on the widely used General Assembly calendar and on the commission’s Web site.
McDonnell’s counselor, Jasen Eige, said in an interview Thursday that the work groups are not subject to Virginia law because they were formed by the governor and not by the commission.
“I think they’re playing games with you and the public in Virginia,’’ said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors government ethics issues. “It’s one of the states that has a strong open-meeting law. They’re trying to find ways to go around it. It’s frustrating. . . . It doesn’t sound like reform.’’
The work groups are charged with providing ideas to the commission, the governor’s staff and the Cabinet secretaries.
“That’s our sole interest, producing good ideas, not adhering to a certain way of doing things,’’ McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said.
McDonnell, who took office in January 2010, has made government transparency a priority. His handpicked
31-member reform commission has followed his lead, with members speaking often about the need for a more open and user-friendly state government.
Martin said McDonnell is being punished for being transparent enough to tell the public about the existence of work groups, something he said would not have happened in other administrations.