Request for support during the pandemic

24 March 2020

Dear VCOG friend and supporter:

First and foremost: I am hopeful that this letter finds you safe and healthy. Everyone's prime objective at this time should be to care for the physical well-being of ourselves and our loved ones.

Personally, I battled a bronchial infection shortly before things melted down, and I now have a newly minted teenager home from school for the duration of the academic year. (Yay?) My husband is in a service-based business. He faces an uncertain future, as do close friends whose businesses have been severely compromised by the governor's directives.

Everyone is struggling, and my heart goes out to the most vulnerable among us.

At VCOG, the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was the postponement of our annual conference. We've rescheduled to May 21, still in Harrisonburg, but there's certainly a chance we will have to reschedule again. Most of our donors and sponsors graciously agreed to let us carry over their donations, but income we would have brought in from registrations has dried up.

Our endowment -- which provides fully one-third of our annual operating budget -- has absorbed a heavy blow, losing more than 15% of its value since the beginning of this fiscal year and dropping us back to a balance we passed way back in October 2016.

But we're still getting work done. The newsletter goes out every week day. Phone and email inquiries are up 20% over this time last month. I've participated in calls with the governor's office, government attorneys, state and local officials, journalists and others to figure out the contours of the new-normal for public meetings. I have been tracking how government agencies are adapting and hearing from FOIA officers across the state about how they will handle requests while not being in the office physically.

All of this comes on the heels of a volatile legislative session, which included a bill VCOG drafted on transparency for the administrative arm of the court system. We were not successful, but the issue drew a considerable amount of attention. We also mentored a recent college graduate, setting up opportunities for him to observe the legislative process from the vantage point of legislators' offices, the House Clerk's office, and with reporters.

And as the primary author of the first five reports from Transparency Virginia, VCOG is already crunching numbers and compiling anecdotes for a sixth report.

We need your help to keep our momentum going. Transparency in government is absolutely critical, now more than ever. As more work is shifting online, data and government responses to the crisis must be readily available. Public business is still being conducted, and the public must be able to access these meetings. Patience is a must, but so is vigilance.

Help us help you stay vigilant. Help us remain part of the conversation about what constitutes best practices for records and meetings. Help us keep you informed.

Please donaterenew your membership, contribute to our Amazon wish list or otherwise support VCOG in any way you can. The weeks ahead may be tough, but we will make it through, buoyed by the faith and backing of our friends.

Stay safe!

Megan Rhyne
VCOG Executive Director