VCOG 2011 Annual Conference

A snowy(!), gray morning yielded to afternoon sun on Mr. Jefferson's mountain, Saturday, Oct. 29, as several dozen citizens, journalists and even a politician or two joined VCOG in discussing open government issues of the day at Access 2011.

The morning at Monticello started with a "reverse press conference," where local elected and appointed officials asked questions of local journalists about access. Local library board member Gary Grant challenged the reporters to keep regular tabs on government officials by routinely asking for or monitoring their email. In turn, all three from the press side (Henry Graff of WVIR, Rob Schilling of The Schilling Show and Hawes Spencer of The Hook) said they felt they had nothing to hide if their email was required to be public (barring constitutional protection, of course!).

Roger Christman from the Library of Virginia gave a presentation on his work in archiving and making searchable the estimated 1.5 million email from Governor Tim Kaine's administration. He showed sample message from when news of the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech first trickled in. He also discussed how the decisions he makes about what to disclose and what to withhold from the archive can affect the library's relationship with future governors.

Things got a little heated (pardon the pun) when representatives of the American Tradition Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists sparred over ATI's FOIA request for emails from former UVA climate-science professor Michael Mann. Though both agreed that UVA has not responded properly under Virginia law, they disagreed over whether the law of this or any state should be amended to give more protection to scientists in the name of academic freedom.

VCOG also presented its annual awards to citizens, media and government making a difference to FOIA and access to government in Virginia. Jill DeMello Hill received the Laurence E. Richardson citizen award for her work uncovering records from the Fairfax County school system about the surprise closing of a local elementary school.

The Roanoke Times was recognized in the media category for its pursuit (and ultimate victory) of records from the City of Radford. The paper asked to see a FOIA request made by an employee, but the city refused, saying it was a personnel record. A judge sided with the paper. The city eventually dropped its appeal.


Delegates Jim LeMunyon (R-Chantilly) and Mark Keam (D-Vienna) shared the government prize for their two-year effort to require legislators' voting records to be incorporated into the online Legislative Information System. The pair originally sought to apply the requirement to both General Assembly houses, but for now, at least, it will apply only to the House of Delegates.