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Paper objects to council's closed meeting with Wilder
Fredericksburg City Council and former governor discuss proposed slavery museum during meeting closed to the public.

 Silver Cos. Vice President Jud Honaker (rear left) looks on yesterday as David Anderson, another Silver representative, discusses the legality of the City Council's closed meeting. Councilmen Gordon Shelton (left) and Joe Wilson both voted to go into closed session.
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Date published: 8/10/2001

A divided Fredericksburg City Council closed its meeting with former Gov. Douglas Wilder last night despite an objection from The Free Lance-Star that the closed session violated the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The 5-2 council majority contended the meeting was permissible under an exemption to the open-meetings law.

That provision of state law permits closed discussions "concerning a prospective business or industry where no previous announcement has been made of the business' or industry's interest in locating or expanding its facilities in the community."

The newspaper contended that there had been a previous announcement that Fredericksburg was a site being considered for a slavery museum.

Wilder said in April at a gathering at Montpelier that the city was in the running for the museum. Since then, the City Council has held at least one public meeting to discuss the museum possibility.

City Attorney Jim Pates, who is on vacation, did not attend last night's meeting.

Mayor Bill Beck, who voted against closing the meeting, told the other council members that he had consulted with the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council earlier in the day.

Beck said that Maria Everett, the council's executive director, said she felt an announcement had already been made, based on the information Beck provided.

Everett also told The Free Lance-Star before the meeting that she believed an announcement had been made previously.

Everett said that if Wilder, who heads the national slavery museum board, has the authority to speak on its behalf, "then that's a previous announcement and they would not be able to invoke that particular exemption."

After the meeting, Beck and Councilman Scott Howson, who had voted against closing the meeting, also voted against certifying that the closed session had been conducted legally.

David E. Anderson, an attorney who was at the session at the request of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he considered Wilder's remarks in April to be "casual" comments--not an announcement.

In addition to Wilder and the council members, several economic development officials and Chamber of Commerce members were permitted to attend the council's closed meeting.