Minutes of 11/17/05 board of directors meeting

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Minutes, Fall Board Meeting
Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, VA

Present: Paul McMasters, president; Wat Hopkins, vice president; Ed Jones, secretary; Lucy Dalglish; Cy Dillon; Mark Grunewald; Connie Houston; Pam Luecke; Peter Maroney; Lawrence McConnell; Kathy Mohn; Robert M. O’Neil; Matt Paxton; Don Richards; Chip Woodrum; Ginger Stanley, Virginia Press Association; Peter Easter, Virginia Association of Broadcasters; Frosty Landon; Megan Rhyne. Also attending were board nominee Lee Albright and VAB Associate Director Barrett Hardiman.

President McMasters called the meeting to order at 3:30 p.m.

O’Neil moved approval of the minutes of the summer board meeting, with Dillon seconding. Landon noted that his reference to the Brechner Citizen Access Project should indicate that Virginia’s FOI Act was found to be "one of the best" in the nation, not the best. With that correction, the minutes were approved unanimously.

Discussion ensued on the Financial Report. Landon noted that revenues received in the July-through-October period were $56,000, about $8,500 short of the budgeted figure. The shortfall is due to fewer contributions to this year’s Annual Conference (in part because donors already are being asked to contribute to next year’s 10th-anniversary campaign), and a lower contribution from VPA.

Noting that over $160,000 already has been raised in the 10th-anniversary campaign, Landon indicated he does not plan to spend the $30,000 in the budget for a 2006 event coordinator to help with fundraising. VPA staff will assist with clerical work on the details of the 2006 events.

Discussion ensued on the Membership Report, which included eight applicants -- seven individuals and the Virginia Association of Health Plans. O’Neil moved approval of the applications, with Dalglish seconding. The motion passed unanimously.

McMasters presented a report from the Executive Committee. The board approved three recommendations related to the 10th-anniversary gala dinner next year at the Library of Virginia. They are to set a $225,000 goal for fundraising, which after expenses for the dinner would produce a $200,000 net, matching the Knight Foundation grant; a price-per-seat for the gala of $250, rather than $500; and a price-per-table of $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000.

On another Executive Committee recommendation, O’Neil moved, with Easter seconding, that the board support the filing of an amicus brief in the appeal of the FOI case against the Culpeper Board of Supervisors (should the full state Supreme Court hear the appeal). The matter was referred to the Litigation Committee for follow-up. The board also approved a request for General Assembly recognition of the Coalition on the occasion of its 10th anniversary.

Landon was empowered to continue his advocacy for filling loopholes in campaign-finance disclosure.

Dillon presented the report of the Nominating Committee. He noted four nominees for three-year, at-large seats, who will be voted on by the membership on Nov. 18. They are Hopkins, McMasters and O’Neil for re-election, and Albright for a new term. Dillon also noted VPA’s action in reappointing Jones and Paxton for three-year terms, and VAB’s action in reappointing Maroney for a three-year term.

Landon and Rhyne reported on preparations for the next day’s Access 2005 program. Rhyne said it had been more difficult to fill panels than in previous years.

O’Neil presented a report from the Gala Committee on plans for a fundraising dinner in November 2006 to mark VCOG’s 10th anniversary. He said the committee would consider either a speaker or entertainment for the Thursday-night dinner. A conversation with a noted person is one possible approach. For the Friday day program, one idea is to invite representatives from some of the most successful state FOI coalitions to join VCOG for a discussion of what has been achieved and what approaches might work best for the future. This discussion might produce a publication to mark the anniversary event.

O’Neil and McMasters encouraged board members to additional ideas for the program in the weeks to come.

In Old Business, Landon noted that the redesigned VCOG Web site had had a silent launch the day before. Rhyne, who oversaw the redesign, said that material is better organized and that the site includes a blog. Also, the site’s search capabilities have been enhanced. The new site will be introduced to the membership at the Nov. 18 meeting.

Landon noted two court cases. One involved Lee Albright, a board nominee. It concerned the awarding of attorneys’ fees for Albright’s efforts to gain access to information from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The other is the ongoing appeal in a case brought against the Culpeper Board of Supervisors. The lower court found that a meeting between the board and a school architect could be closed under the contract exemption of the FOIA. Landon said the concern is that this ruling is based on a broad interpretation of the exemption, rather than the narrow interpretation called for in the act.

In New Business, Landon noted that grant money continues to be available from the Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Council. He suggested that the board consider ideas for grant proposals. Woodrum suggested that VCOG might help strengthen and broaden the FOI roadshows for local elected officials offered by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council. It was agreed that Landon will pursue ideas, with the possibility of applying for a grant next year.

Dalglish reported that the organization she heads, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is now in the page-proofing stage for a new survey of the 50 state FOI laws.

Landon offered a brief legislative preview for the 2006 General Assembly. Among the issues to be addressed are public/private partnerships, loopholes in campaign-finance disclosure and, perhaps, closed-door discussions of possible appointees. Requests for exemption from the new electronic-meeting guidelines for state government might also arise.

Maroney and others suggested ways to market the redesigned VCOG Web site. Among the ideas were an online tutorial, PSAs for broadcast stations and a press release to The Associated Press.

The meeting was adjourned at 5 p.m.

Addendum: At the VCOG membership meeting on Friday, Nov. 18, at the Col Alto Inn in Lexington, VA, Ed Jones, on behalf of Nominating Committee Chairman Cy Dillon, nominated the follow persons for three-year, at-large terms: Wat Hopkins, Paul McMasters and Robert M. O’Neil for re-election, and Lee Albright for a new term. The nominations were supported unanimously. Respectfully submitted, Ed Jones Secretary