VCOG board meeting 03-25-11

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Board of Directors

March 25, 2011

Virginia Press Association Headquarters
Glen Allen, Virginia

Final Minutes

The meeting was called to order at 1:10 p.m., by Dorothy Abernathy, President.

The following Board members were present: Dorothy Abernathy, President; Craig Fifer, Secretary; Paul Casalaspi, Treasurer, Ginger Stanley, VPA Representative; Lawrence McConnell, Immediate Past President; Lee Albright; Lucy Dalglish; John Edwards; Dick Hammerstrom; Waldo Jaquith; Frosty Landon; Pam Luecke; Tom Moncure; Pat O'Bannon; Matt Paxton; Ed Reams; Melody Sculley; Michael Stowe. Also present was Megan Rhyne, Executive Director.

Upon a motion by Edwards, seconded by Dalglish, the minutes from the Oct. 21, 2010, meeting of the Board and the Oct. 22, 2010, annual meeting of the Coalition were unanimously approved by voice vote.

Abernathy gave a report from the Executive Committee, which met just prior to the Board meeting. She said that the Executive Committee discussed a situation in which members of the Coalition may disagree about a position of the Coalition as adopted by the Board. The consensus of the Executive Committee was that the Executive Director should continue to represent the official position of the Coalition in that case, although any member is free to request that the position be reconsidered by the Board. The Board discussed whether there may be a need to create or change the process by which this reconsideration could be facilitated. No action was taken on this matter.

Abernathy further reported that the Executive Committee discussed whether the Bylaws should provide for the removal of Board members who miss an excessive number of Board meetings. The Executive Committee recommended that the matter be referred to the Bylaws Committee for a recommendation to the Board, which referral was made without objection.

Abernathy said that Rhyne suggested that the Coalition develop an updated mission statement with active language. Abernathy appointed an ad hoc committee consisting of Dalglish, Jaquith and McConnell, to draft a statement to bring back to the Board at the June meeting. Jaquith asked whether the statement should be geared toward providing input to the Coalition on what it should and shouldn't be doing, or whether it should serve primarily towards explaining to others what the Coalition does. The consensus of the Board is that it should be the latter.

Rhyne gave a report from the Legislative Committee on the 2011 regular session of the General Assembly. Despite a recommendation by the Governor's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring that the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council be eliminated, no such legislation was filed. A bill to provide a judicial mechanism for a public body to claim that a FOIA request is harassing (HB2383) was defeated 8-1 in subcommittee. Bills to require that every record be labeled at the time of its creation with any applicable FOIA exemptions (HB1722); and to restrict access to information about the salaries of public employees (SB812); were referred to the FOIA Council for further study. Only one completely new FOIA exemption passed the General Assembly, which was regarding pricing information for commercial spaceflight. A bill to double the potential fines for FOIA violations (HB1457) passed and has been signed by the Governor. The House passed a resolution (HR64) that directs the Clerk of the House (starting with the 2012 regular session) to provide public online access to recorded votes that is organized by member name.

Dalglish asked what the best course of action would be to continue work on expanding access under FOIA to criminal records. Stanley noted that a bill that would limit the current major exemption to only active investigations (SB1467) was referred by the General Assembly to the FOIA Council for further study this year. Fifer, who chairs the FOIA Council's subcommittee on criminal records, explained the history of the Council's consideration of this issue in 2010. He suggested that in order to make progress on this issue, the access community needs to approach the FOIA Council in greater numbers, and with a specific legislative proposal.

Casalaspi, chair of the Finance Committee, reported on the Coalition's finances, the details of which were distributed in writing.

Following the success of two workshops conducted by the Coalition in 2010, the Coalition received a $5,000 grant from the Knight Foundation for future workshops. Rhyne has scheduled two workshops for April 27, at the offices of The Roanoke Times. The first session will be geared to the public and will focus on how to use FOIA. The second session will be geared to government agencies, and will focus on best practices in records management and FOIA request handling.

Rhyne reported that the Coalition's credit card processing company has increased the fees it charges the Coalition. She is working to move processing to PayPal.

Rhyne further reported that the Governor's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring requested that the Coalition provide ways in which open government in Virginia could be improved. After soliciting feedback from the Board by e-mail, Rhyne submitted a letter on behalf of the Coalition.

Rhyne said that the Coalition would like to resume its internship program, but because she did not attend the public access job for law students, she suggested the Coalition look for interns in college journalism programs. Rhyne asked for referrals of candidates from Board members or others.

Rhyne said she would like to attend the annual conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, to be held May 20-21, in Providence, Rhode Island. Upon motion by Dalglish and second by Paxton, the Board unanimously approved the request by voice vote.

Casalaspi, chair of the Awards Committee, reported that the Coalition will seek nominations for "FOIA Heroes" on a year-round basis, through an online form. These nominations could be used in the future to award quarterly certificates.

Hammerstrom, chair of the Annual Conference Committee, reported that there were 63 participants in the Coalition's annual conference on Oct. 22, 2010, and that the conference made a small profit. He further reported that the committee has discussed holding the 2011 conference in conjunction with an event on Oct. 29 at the University of Virginia (sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression) to honor Bob O'Neil. The conference would likely take place during the day, with a dinner in the evening.

Edwards, chair of the Membership Committee, reported that the Coalition has gained eight new members since Oct. 22, 2010, for a current total of 163 members. Edwards requested that all Board members join as individual members of the Coalition, whether or not their employers are also organizational members.

Luecke, chair of the Marketing Committee, reported on the Coalition's participation in the annual Sunshine Week. McConnell reported that one of Virginia's 2011 nominations for FOIA Hero was selected for national recognition by the American Society of News Editors.

Rhyne reported that she has received several small gifts (such as a newspaper subscription or coffee shop gift card) to thank her for participating in speaking engagements. She asked whether the Board wishes to be notified of each of these gifts. The consensus of the Board was that such notice is not necessary. Fifer suggested that Rhyne seek advice from the President regarding any gift of more than nominal value.

Jaquith told the Board that he has been working on a website to provide greater access to the Code of Virginia. His new site combines the text of the statutes with applicable case law and legislative history, while providing improved navigation features. He plans to move to the alpha and beta testing stages soon.

Referring to the earlier discussion of HB1722, Edwards moved that the Coalition oppose any effort to classify documents with FOIA exemptions when those documents are created. Stanley seconded. While opposing HB1722 and similar approaches, Fifer expressed concern that the language of the motion may be too sweeping, and may have unintended consequences if applied to future proposals with more merit. The motion was passed by the Board. O'Bannon, who voted on the prevailing side of the motion, moved that the Board reconsider the preceding vote. The motion was seconded by Hammerstrom and was passed by the Board. After discussion, the Board voted by voice to approve the original motion again.

The next meeting of the Board of Directors will take place on June 23, 24 or 25, at the Virginia Association of Broadcasters' annual conference in Virginia Beach.

There being no further business to come before the Board, Abernathy adjourned the meeting at 3:17 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Craig Fifer