Crossroads remains silent: No explanation offered on real estate action

Published 1:04 pm Thursday, September 1, 2016

Crossroads Community Services Board leadership remains silent following action regarding real estate taken after a closed session during its Aug. 23 meeting.

Numerous calls to Executive Director Dr. Susan Baker have gone unanswered. Board Chairman Sidney Smyth has declined to explain the board’s action during several telephone calls.

In response, The Herald filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Baker via email Wednesday seeking information pertaining to the action.

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During the Aug. 23 meeting, members unanimously agreed to enter closed session regarding personnel and real estate items. After the 20-minute session, the board voted unanimously to approve a one-time, one-week’s salary bonus for part- and full-time employees to be issued in the near future; and accept the finance committee’s report regarding real estate.

“I move that we accept the recommendation from the financial committee in regards to the closed session on real estate,” said Donnie Bryan, a Buckingham representative on the Crossroads Board, who is also the District Two representative on the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors.

There was no discussion on the motion prior to the unanimous vote, and Smyth immediately continued to the executive director’s report after the vote.

Following the meeting, The Herald asked Baker and Smyth for an explanation and comment on the real estate motion. The two declined, and Baker said she wouldn’t address the action until Thursday, Aug. 25. Since then, neither Baker nor Smyth have disclosed any specifics about what members actually voted to approve.

The portion of the Virginia FOIA public bodies are to cite before entering into closed session regarding real estate says governing bodies may discuss or consider “the acquisition of real property for a public purpose, or of the disposition of publicly held real property, where discussion in an open meeting would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.”

However, the commonwealth’s Freedom of Information Act Council has offered opinions stating the substance of a motion voted on in open session must be reasonably identified. The Virginia Coalition for Open Government has interpreted this to mean while a public body may be concerned about revealing the purchase price of real estate before finalizing a deal, a motion being voted on could be more specific in terms of the property being purchased or sold.

In its email to Baker, and in accordance with Section 2.2 -3700 of the Virginia FOIA and what follows it, The Herald is requesting “all documents (including, but not limited to, emails, memorandums and all other correspondence) pertaining to the board’s action as a result of the Tuesday, Aug. 23 closed session held by the Crossroads Community Services Board under the FOIA exemption for real estate regarding a recommendation from the board’s finance committee.”

In addition, The Herald told Baker it believes “the Crossroads board’s discussion of across-the-board raises/bonuses was not appropriate under the ‘personnel’ exemption to FOIA for a closed session.”

Under the Virginia FOIA, Baker has five working days from Wednesday to respond to The Herald’s request. At that point, she must either provide the requested information; deny the request in whole or in part with an explanation; or request an extension, of an additional seven working days.