2017 open government award winners

Virginia Coalition for Open Government Announces Winners of Annual Open Government Awards

CONTACT Megan Rhyne, Executive Director | 540-353-8264 | mrhyne@opengovva.org

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government today announced the winners of the organization’s annual open government awards: an advocacy group that used everyday technology to bring the inner-workings of the General Assembly committee system to light, and a newspaper whose months-long investigation into pharmacies put on probation by the Department of Health Professions (DHP) changed the way that department publicizes those violations. The awards will be given at VCOG’s annual conference, Nov. 16, at the Richmond Times-Dispatch building, 300 E. Franklin St., Richmond.

Laurence E. Richardson Citizen Award: Progress Virginia
Without audio and visual recordings of the meetings Virginia General Assembly, there is no practical way for the citizens of Virginia to see their legislators in action. A report by the Daily Press revealed that Virginia was one of only a handful of states that did not broadcast at least some of legislature’s committee meeting.

Progress Virginia, an advocacy group for progressive causes, set out to fill the empty space of recorded committee meetings. Volunteers armed with little more that smart phones, tripods and a plug-in microphone, set up in the four main committee rooms for the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate with the video pointed at the dais of committee members and the lectern where speakers testify to the committee. The volunteers turned the recording on at the beginning of the meeting, turned it off at the end, and offered no commentary or external comment. The video, which was live streamed to one of four channels set up on the EyesOnRichmond.org website, spoke for itself. Citizens from all over the state could tune in and could measure for themselves the discussions taking place on all the bills on that committee’s docket.

VCOG’s citizen award is named in honor of longtime Charlottesville broadcaster, and VCOG founding board member, Laurence E. Richardson.

Award for Media: The News Leader in Staunton and reporter Jeff Schwaner
For four months, Schwaner reviewed DHP pharmacy inspection records, available through the Freedom of Information Act, taking note of several violations in the paper’s coverage area.  These pharmacies had been put on probation by DHP for violations from a pharmacy mistakenly dispensing an anti-seizure drug to a child in 2009 to a pharmacist diverting 240 opioid tablets for personal use in 2014. To compound matters, the public had no obvious way to find out: Pharmacies were not required to post notice of their violations, and the information was difficult to find on the DHP website.

Following the News Leader’s article, that changed. “[B]oard staff has identified an ability through its licensing software to indicate ‘probation’ as an ‘action’ which is now visible when searching case decisions,” a DHP spokesman wrote to the NewsLeader. The series also raised awareness to the fact that these inspection records are open and available to the public, meaning citizens can take more control over their prescription drug health.

Founded in 1996 and based in Williamsburg, VCOG is a non-partisan nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and advocating for the public’s right to know.