VCOG Board of Directors meeting, 10/4/19

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Board of Directors meeting
October 4, 2019
Virginia Press Association offices, 115239 Nuckols Rd., Glen Allen VA  23059

PRESENT: Dick Hammerstrom (president); Stephen Hayes (secretary) — by phone; Jeff South (treasurer); Lawrence McConnell; Bob Gibson; Jonathan Williams; Lou Emerson; Wat Hopkins; Betsy Edwards; Katy Evans; Craig Fifer — by phone; Megan Rhyne - staff

The meeting was called to order at 1:37 p.m.

Because a quorum was not present at the meeting’s start, Hammerstrom elected to go to Item IX (News Business - Discussion). Gibson distributed copies of a bill that will be proposed in 2020 to reinforce the First Amendment rights of student journalists. Radford-area delegate Chris Hurst, will carry the bill, which is similar to one he carried last year. Gibson is rounding up legislators to co-sponsor and groups to serve as allies. A meeting is scheduled Nov. 13 at VPA to discuss further.

Hammerstrom then discussed the lawsuit recently filed on behalf of several news organizations challenging the Department of Corrections policy prohibiting the media from witnessing executions. Hammerstrom asked if VCOG should get involved. Rhyne pointed out that VCOG has not been asked to join, but that the logical hook for any involvement would be that VCOG was vocal in opposing the bills (one that was defeated one year, one that succeeded the next) to shut down access to information about the drugs used in lethal injection. A quorum now present, Gibson moved for VCOG to show its support for the lawsuit, Hopkins seconded, and the motion was unanimously approved.

McConnell caught a typo in the minutes from the April 10, 2019, board of directors meeting (a reference to VCOG’s 25th anniversary was written as 2th). Edwards moved to adopt the minutes as amended, Hammerstrom seconded, and the motion was unanimously approved.

Rhyne presented the year-end reports on the budget and endowment. The budget shows that VCOG finished in the red this year by more than $4,785. She noted that income was down significantly, in part because many past members have not renewed. She noted several past members have died. She also noted, however, that while dues-renewals are down, gift donations continue to rise, meaning people may just be giving in different ways, including the annual conference. Rhyne noted that a discussions about dues-models vs. donation-models are taking place across the country in other state open-government coalitions. Rhyne noted expenses were relatively low and close to budget. Next year’s income and expenses have been budgeted relatively flat.

Rhyne further discussed the chart she prepared showing out expenses vs. income each month, as well as how she was caught off-guard by the cash flow VCOG would lose in the fall from the annual conference we moved from fall 2018 to spring 2019.

Rhyne noted the positive overall growth of the endowment. Last year, the full drawdown was covered (and grew) by investment income. The drawdown taken earlier this fiscal year has likewise been made up.

McConnell asked Rhyne how she reaches out to former members to encourage them to renew. Rhyne detailed the multiple letters she sends out, but admitted to sporadic personal outreach. She does send a follow-up email to people who have contacted VCOG with questions. She has only received two donations from those messages. South commented on the competition other news-oriented organizations present for media members to renew. Emerson offered to reach out to online-only news outlets like his ( to encourage them to join.

Rhyne presented the Executive Director’s report. She noted she has discussed with VCOG president, vice president and treasurer a proposal to change bookkeepers to someone who will charge will charge a monthly flat-rate fee that will ultimately be less than what we paid the past two years and will be more predictable.

Rhyne also went over the financial reconciliation from the 2019 annual conference, which included a $1,500 grant from NFOIC. Sponsors were up, but attendees were down. Next year’s conference is March 20, 2020, at Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg.

The Media Awards luncheon will be Nov. 18 at the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing in Richmond. The goal is to reconnect with our media members to celebrate their good works and to inspire them to join VCOG. Financially, we want to cover our costs.

Rhyne reported that there was no Richardson Fellow this summer. The Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship notice has been posted to the Handshake platform and will be distributed to contacts not on that platform.

Rhyne went over the work she’s done to develop potential legislation for 2020, including one closing a loophole allowing insurance claim settlement amounts to be kept secret and one subjecting the Office of Executive Secretary to FOIA. Edwards reminded the group that OES oversees the fund that pays court-appointed lawyers. Rhyne commended the VPA lobbyists who she has been meeting with regularly to coordinate efforts.

Rhyne highlighted some of the issues being considered by the FOIA Council, including university donor records and phishing. She expressed concern that the subcommittee members won’t acknowledge that the solutions they are looking at would not actually fix or even slow down the spread of phishing attacks.

Rhyne recognized Chris Gatewood for drafting a brief on VCOG’s behalf in support of the plaintiffs in the Transparent GMU case at the Virginia Supreme Court. Though she was able to get a grant from the Knight Fund to cover Gatewood’s costs, she did not get one for his attorney’s fees. She noted that the arbitrary way the application for fees was handled actually prompted NFOIC to reconfigure their applications processes to address the loopholes and inconsistencies in current practices.
Rhyne made note of the Transparency Virginia 2019 report she authored. She also updated the board on the return of NFOIC’s state grant program and the FOIA out-of-state proxy requests she has facilitated.

At Hammerstrom’s request, Rhyne updated what she knew about Frosty Landon’s health.

Rhyne and McConnell presented the Nominating Committee report. McConnell recommended the board nominate three people to the vacant at-large seats: Joe Fuentes of Williamsburg, Caroline Glickman of Lynchburg and Isaiah Knight of Lynchburg. Their terms will run for three years, starting Jan. 1, 2020. Gibson moved to approve the nominees for three-year terms, South seconded, and the board unanimously approved. Rhyne reminded the board that their appointments would need to be ratified retroactively at the spring conference. Rhyne also noted that the Virginia Association of Broadcasters now has three vacant seats.

Rhyne directed the board to the list of new and returning members since the April 10 meeting, as well as those who haven’t renewed. She asked members to reach out to any on the list they might know.

The board went back to the first item. Hopkins made a motion to express support for the student journalism bill, Gibson seconded and the board unanimously approved.

Lastly, Rhyne asked for input on what VCOG’s position would be on attempts to allow citizen cell phone numbers to be redacted from public records. The board said VCOG should oppose such measures.

The meeting adjourned at 3:12 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Megan Rhyne
Executive Director