Court case involves library

Published 12:32 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A court case between three Lunenburg citizens and members of the Lunenburg County Public Library System (LCPLS) board of trustees went underway in June after a citizen filed a petition, claiming the LCPLS had allegedly violated measures of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

According to court records, Trudy Berry, of Green Bay, had filed a petition for mandamus — a judicial writ issued as a command to an inferior court or ordering a person to perform a public or statutory duty — with two others to have the Lunenburg Circuit Court intervene in April. The petition was addressed to LCPLS board of trustees and trustee member Karen Scales, of Kenbridge.

Following the hearing, which took place June 28 in the Lunenburg Circuit Court, the case and mandamus request was dismissed, Lunenburg Circuit Court Clerk Gordon Erby confirmed.

Berry, a member of the board of director for Friends of the Victoria Public Library, said she started attending the LCPLS board of trustees meetings when the board was announced to represent the area’s libraries, succeeding Southside Regional Library (SRL) and later holding its first public meeting in July 2015.

“Many times, someone in attendance asked for an agenda and/or Minutes, but the Chair always responded that they didn’t have any for those in attendance,” Berry said of the alleged charges in an email. “Eventually, everyone gave up asking.”

Berry said she sent a written FOIA request in April 2016 for the LCPLS to send email meeting notices and packet material.

Virginia Code 2.2-3707 cites at least one copy of the proposed agenda and all agenda packets to be available for the public unless it is exempt from public request. Code 2.2-3704 among other rules cites that public bodies receiving the request respond to the entity making the request within five days, that costs of delivering the request would be reasonable to the recipient and if information is formatted electronically that recipients can also receive electronic copies.

Berry said she did not receive a reply, and sent another written request three weeks later. The board’s attorney, N. Garrison Elder, responded.

Once Berry sent the first written request in April, she said board members had copies of the agendas available for audience members.

After the second written request, Berry said she received a hard copy of the meeting packet for meetings from July 2015 to April 2016 instead of an electronic copy requested.

A month after receiving the board packet, Berry said the Board Chair told her she would be receiving an invoice.

“It was about a month after I received the packet, while attending a Board meeting that the Chair announced that I would be receiving an invoice from them,” Berry said. “The following week, I received a bill for $388.06.”

Berry said the alleged incident violated the laws surrounding the FOIA request.

Following these events, Berry said she filed a petition for mandamus to the LCPLS board of trustees and Scales individually to have the Lunenburg Circuit Court intervene in April, according to court records.

A motion to dismiss the mandamus toward the LCPLS board and Scales was sent to the circuit court by Elder, citing that meeting notices are advertised and published in the county’s weekly calendar and area newspapers, and physical copies of meeting information are available at the Ripberger Public Library in Kenbridge.

The dismissal request also cited that as the LCPLS board is a volunteer organization, Scales does not represent a public body or constitutional officer and is not subject to FOIA requests.

Scales was reached for comment following the hearing, and she recommended consulting Lunenburg County Circuit Court records to learn more about the hearing.

“The court records are for public review,” Scales said about the hearing.   

Scales said the next board of trustees meeting for the LCPLS will take place Friday, July 28 at 6 p.m. in the Victoria Public Library.

“All of our meetings are open to the general public,” Scales said.