VCOG Board of Directors meeting, 4/10/19

VCOG Board of Directors Minutes

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Board of Directors Meeting
Hampton Roads Convention Center
April 10, 2019

Board Members present:  Dick Hammerstrom, Vice President, Paul Casalaspi, Secretary, Stephen Hayes, Treasurer, Jeff South, Wat Hopkins, Maria Everett, Bob Gibson, Lawrence McConnell, Brian Colligan, Megan Rhyne

Call to Order – Hammerstrom called the meeting to order at 2:09pm

Rhyne and Hammerstrom shared “Frosty is not doing well.”  Keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Megan announced Board Member Shelley Kimball is stepping down from the board in order to dedicate her time to a project which helps military families experiencing financial strain.

Hammerstrom noted minutes from 5-31-18.  Bob Gibson approved.  Maria Everett second; full board approval.

Executive Director’s Report
Megan reviewed Supreme Court of Virginia’s proposed set of rules to govern access to records held by the courts and OES.  Unfortunately, only VCOG and Va. Press Assoc. submitted any public comments. Board agreed there should not be separate rules for the courts’ administrative records and likewise, OES must follow FOIA as other entities do.  Paul commented that many legislators agreed with VCOG and VPA’s comments on the matter.

FOIA Council – continues to be state and local government centric.  Reluctant to advance any major policies.  Currently only two media members on the FOIA Council and Marisa Porto may be leaving which would be a set-back.  Board discussion about candidates to serve.  Maria Everett was suggested.  Maria wondered if her ABC employment would be a conflict of interest?

FOIA Council Report – Virginia Supreme Court accepted case involving access to George Mason Foundation records held by the University.  Chris Gatewood is drafting an amicus brief for the court on issues of whether the foundation is an agent of the university and whether business of the foundation meets “public business” standards in FOIA.   Comments shared from Board on FOIA Council study FOIA’s relationship to “phishing attacks.”  Megan shared the Richmond Circuit Court ruling that Office of Executive Secretary in not subject to FOIA.  In Harrisonburg, judge rules personnel meeting exemption does not create an attorney-client privilege.
General Assembly Update – Maria Everett shared that large bills that are not FOIA specific can go forward, but the FOIA portion must go before the FOIA Council prior to exemptions becoming effective.

Megan reported legislation that did pass:
Sen. Mark Obenshain’s bill requiring local elected officials to receive regular FOIA training from the FOIA Council.  Dick emphasized this should be especially true for Sheriff and Commonwealth Attorneys.
Legislation requiring public colleges and universities to hold public comment period prior to an attempt to raise tuition.
Megan stated, “Scott Surovell’s bill may shake things up the most.”  The bill will create two penalties 1) $100 for records altered or destroyed with the intent to avoid a FOIA request, and 2) Up to $1,000 if a public body certifies that a closed meeting was properly conducted when it was not.
Mike Mullen’s bill confirming government can be held accountable by FOIA opinion was a positive development.

Megan shared one bill passed that VCOG actively opposed.  It allows Lottery winners to be  
withheld unless winner gives written consent.  Only applies to winners of $10 million or more.

Megan’s overall summary of the 2019 session, “low key, but productive.”  Megan contacted and met all new legislators in Richmond and the Peninsula as well as other localities.

Annual Conference Update
Donations/Sponsorships = $7,360
Registration = $1,455
70 registered participants

Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship and Richardson Legal Fellows
Leon Soria was the 2019 Chip Woodrum intern.  Leon is a senior political science major at VCU.  Leon was very involved in the process.  
Board discussed Richardson Legal Fellows…strong pool of candidates (U of R, Washington & Lee, etc); however, by the time offers were made the four (4) qualified candidates had accepted other internships.   Suggestions on how to accelerate the process and extend invitations earlier.

Lawrence requested a five-minute recess to speak to Megan.

Nominating Committee
Lawrence, according to VCOG by-laws recommended four individuals who will serve from 1/1/19 through 12/31/21.   Those nominees are current Board Members:   Paul Casalaspi, Pat O’Bannon, Bob Gibson and Craig Fifer.

Currently 129 VCOG members (lowest we’ve seen).   As a result, annual dues are suffering.  Megan shared national focus, funding is overriding local (i.e. VCOG) issues.
Board discussion about what kind of added value we can offer members?
Megan reported on a positive note, sponsorship and endowment has increased.
Lawrence brought up that 2021 is VCOG’s 25th Anniversary.  Is this an opportunity to solicit new members, donations? 

Megan asked for follow up with the Virginia Pilot and Daily Press.  Brian shared the financial constraints they are under.
Endowment currently at $623,451
Budget year to date is behind, but endowment growth helps offset operationally.

Megan shared she has received 239 inquires over the past six months.  Primarily email and phone with journalists and citizens representing those making the inquiries.

Meeting adjourned.