Transparency News 11/27/18



November 27, 2018


You can smile on VCOG when you shop on Amazon. Click here!


A word about #GivingTuesday

Click the #GivingTuesday logo to donate

A lot of worthy organizations are asking for your support on this #GivingTuesday. VCOG is no different. We all rely on the generous donations of our supporters and friends.

I do ask you, though, to think about how your contribution can make a difference to an organization as lean as our's, with an annual budget of under $90,000.

Consider, for instance, that in November, VCOG's executive director, Megan Rhyne, has...

  • traveled from VCOG's base in Williamsburg to Loudoun County to talk with parents of special needs children seeking information from their school district;
  • spent an evening at a Henrico library introducing residents there to foundational principles of open government;
  • went to Chesapeake to present the FOIA portion of VCOG's webinar series on FOIA and records management in partnership with Tidewater Community College where more than 300 government employees were registered; and
  • taught two of three scheduled classes at William & Mary's adult education program on how to follow the General Assembly.

And along the way, on behalf of VCOG, she ... 

  • met with legislators;
  • penned an op-ed on the Amazon HQ2 deal's provision on open records;
  • met with advocates of bringing to light the chemicals and compounders of drugs used in lethal injection;
  • attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court on a FOIA case VCOG filed an amicus brief on; and 
  • met with court personnel on proposed rules for access to judicial records.

The executive director's job is to educate and advocate. So none of these engagements should come as a surprise. But these engagements have a cost. The cost of travel, preparation of materials and time out of the office, where VCOG's administrative needs must be met, as well as the needs of the dozens of citizens, government and reporters who call each month seeking answers to questions about FOIA.

VCOG's executive director is essentially the non-profit's program. But just like other non-profits, we have administrative costs as well: insurance, office supplies (though Megan uses her own computer and works from a home office), phone bills, financial audits and more.

So, your contributions -- even small ones -- make such a difference to both the program and the general operation of VCOG. It keeps our lights on. It keeps our newsletters flowing. It underwrites our travels all over the state and into cyberspace.

It ensures that Virginians always have someone to make the case for open government in Virginia every day, every month, every year.

Please. Donate today.

A note from Megan: In September, I made a personal donation of $1,200 to VCOG. Can you help match that this #GivingTuesday?


state & local news stories

Growing secrecy surrounding executions by injection and the drugs used to carry them out is part of a trend in death penalty states and not unique to Virginia, according to a new report. Virginia shielded the identity of the pharmacy that made two of the drugs used in Ricky Javon Gray’s execution last year — delayed by difficulty inserting an IV line — and afterward further restricted what lethal injection witnesses can view.  Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said, “If you have a system that you’re implementing in the name of the state ... there needs to be public oversight and there needs to be access to information about the process.” “The current setup, with the blackout on information about the chemicals and the pharmacies that are being used, means that there is [no public oversight] and it means that Virginia has set up a system that allows the state to contract with anonymous sources, and I can’t think of any other situation where we allow that,” Rhyne said.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the past 17 months, Charlottesville city councilors have put $26,784 of taxpayer money on city credit cards for expenses ranging from flights and hotels to meals at Hooters. Details about the credit card expenditures come from information obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, councilor conflict of interest statements and social media accounts. All five councilors have a city credit card in their name. The city has a credit card use policy that was created in 2008 and revised in 2015 by then-City Manager Maurice Jones. The single-item purchase limit is $5,000. Wheeler said the bills are paid via the general fund through money set aside for the council in the budget cycle.
The Daily Progress

After suing his city’s election chief for what he says was her failure to turn over information he was legally entitled to, Hopewell GOP Chairman Brandon Howard escalated his running feud with Registrar Yolanda Stokes by protesting outside her office. But it wasn’t the message on Howard’s sign that caused a commotion at Monday night’s meeting of the Hopewell Electoral Board. It was what was on his hip. Just as he did during his protest on the Saturday before Election Day, Howard came to Monday’s meeting armed with a handgun. Sitting in the front row in a meeting room at the Appomattox Regional Library, Howard accused Stokes of violating his First Amendment rights by calling the police on him as he stood outside her office with a sign calling her a liar and demanding her resignation.
Richmond Times-Dispatch



"If you have a system that you’re implementing in the name of the state there needs to be public oversight."


editorials & columns


The nonprofit NH District Corp., a coalition led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, has scheduled four community meetings in December. NH District spokesman Jeff Kelley said last week that he felt the group’s plan reflected input from 3,000 residents who had either attended public presentations the entity has held or responded to surveys it has conducted. A sales pitch and surveys are no substitute for broad public input and penetrating analysis.
Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times-Dispatch