VCOG Board of Directors meeting minutes 4.23.15

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Board of Directors Meeting Minutes of April 23, 2015
Virginia Press Association, Glen Allen, VA

Board Members present:  President, Craig Fifer; VP Dick Hammerstrom; Treasurer, Paul Casalaspi; Secretary, Olga Hernandez; Immediate Past President, Dorothy Abernathy; Brian Eckert; Peter Easter; Christopher Gatewood, Bob Gibson, Mark Grunewald (via Skype); Stephen Hayes, Wat Hopkins; Frosty Landon; Frank LoMonte; Lawrence McConnell; Marisa Porto; Jeff South; Nancy Kent Smith; Ginger Stanley; Jonathan Williams and Executive Director, Megan Rhyne.

Board Members Absent:  Lou Emerson, Paul Fletcher, Jeff Lester, Patricia O’Bannon, and Melody Scalley.

President C. Fifer called the meeting to order at 12:13 p.m.

Announcements:  President C. Fifer announced that he is running for a House of Delegates seat in the 45th district.  He asked if there were any objections and there were none.  VP  D. Hammerstrom was congratulated on his new position as assistant editorial editor for the Free Lance-Star. Delegate Jim LeMunyon resigned from the VCOG board as his new assignment in the House of Delegates is a potential conflict.  Frank LoMonte was welcomed to the board. 

Minutes:  P. Easter moved O. Hernandez seconded approval of the minutes of November 13, 2014. The minutes were approved as presented.

Executive Committee Report:  President C. Fifer reported on the meeting held just prior to the board meet.  The committee discussed the issue of the how Executive Director’s time is spent during the General Assembly session.  President Fifer will speak to M. Rhyne about the best way to represent VCOG.  M. Rhyne was asked to compile a summary report of her activities during the GA session on how her time and resources were spent.  She will submit her report to the Executive Committee and the board.  The board had no questions. The Treasurer P. Casalaspi reported that the finance committee looked into the investment options and recommended moving the funds to Vanguard where the funds can be more easily managed.  The Executive Committee agreed with the recommendation.  The treasurer expressed the need to raise more revenue so as not to continue to draw down the endowment. 

Finance Report: Operating Budget:  Expenses year to date are running $17,994 behind, but it does not account for certain dues we’re expecting.  Thus, the Operating Fund runs in deficit most of the time but we then balance by year’s end. Two withdrawals from the endowment of $11,000 each were taken, one in December 2014 and another in March 2015, to avoid cash flow problems. The November Conference was well funded and made a profit of $1331.93 due to good attendance and sponsorships.  Mostly our expenses are salary and benefits, not much pad.  The Treasurer stated that we need to increase revenue opportunities and not continue to draw down the Endowment at the current pace.

            Endowment: The endowment is down 5.18% for the period July 2014 to March 2015, which includes the two drawdowns.  In consultation with the Endowment Committee, after much research, Treasurer P. Casalaspi recommends that VCOG funds be moved into a self-managed Vanguard Balanced Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBIAX) mutual fund.  This is optimal for a small fund like ours.  This fund includes 3354 stocks and 6012 bonds.  Our current fund strategy has a 50/50 equity/bonds asset allocation and they also recommend that we move to a 60/40 ratio, Vanguard would keep the balance.  The Executive Committee agrees with the recommendation.    The Treasurer moved and D. Abernathy seconded the motion to act on the recommendation, the motion passed unanimously.  This move will save thousands in fees. This would mean we pay about $450 in fees vs the $6,000 to $8,000 to the current fund management company.  It was clarified that for moves of more than $1,000 the Executive Director would seek approval of the President and or Treasurer as she has in the past.   

            President Fifer thanked the Endowment Committee for its diligent work.

            Chip Woodrum Fund (CWF): M. Rhyne pointed out that CWF is currently in a separate bank account but the $62,722 balance would be moved to Vanguard.  The Treasurer clarified they would be held separately.  A large part of that money came directly from the Woodrum family.

             The reception was very successful raising funds for the Internship and introducing more people to VCOG and what we do.   M. Rhyne was thanked for the idea and organization of the event.


Legislative Update:  M. Rhyne stated that overall this was a quiet session with a fairly good record on government transparency legislation.  M. Rhyne did not attend as often but ushered our CWF intern, Zhina Kamali, around the GA teaching her and introducing her to the legislative committee system.  The biggest concern was the legislation on lethal injections and the so-called secrecy of drug manufacturers providing the ingredients.  It was a Governor’s bill and though it passed both houses it was finally defeated on the floor. 

            VCOG submitted an amicus brief pro bono to the Supreme Court in a case challenging the withholding of records related to the death penalty by electric chair, but only on the merit of FOIA access to records not on the merit of the death penalty itself.   

            Several bills have been referred to the FOIA Council for review.  See 2015 Legislative wrap-up report submitted with the working documents.


Executive Director’s Report:   CWF Intern, Z. Kamali submitted her final report.  It will also be sent to the Woodrum family and other donors. She was a delight to work with and wrote a wonderful blog piece which turned into an OpEd in the Roanoke Times about transparency.    She kept track of bills, observed floor sessions worked with Del. Monty Mason (D) and Del. David Yancy (R).  M. Rhyne went to 10 colleges though the career services but it may be more useful to go through political science departments to reach students interested in politics.  Z. Kamali came through a Sorenson Institute referral.  Her internship check for $2,000 has been issued.  M. Rhyne is having a brochure designed for future recruitment of interns.  She learned that the best recruitment strategy is to contact directly with Political Science Departments of colleges.

            Transparency Virginia (TV):  A coalition of non-profit groups coalesced to observe committee meetings and how they work in dealing with bills.  M. Rhyne authored the 20-page report, presented April 14, compiling committee observations from members of the coalition.  The report is posted on online.  The group received many positive articles and media comments on the issuance of the report from both Republican and Democratic GA members.  One legislator objected but did not cite any particular error in the report. The report points to deficiencies of recording votes in many committees and subcommittees of the House and how different committees in each chamber handle votes.  Copies of the report were given to all legislators and the Governor.  G. Stanley suggested that the coalition approach the leadership in a constructive way to see how the problems outlined in the report can be resolved.  

            Sunshine Week:  M. Rhyne did not have an article published but she served as a panelist at National FOI Day at the Newseum celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Sunshine Week.  She authored a blog post which was picked up by other publications.

            Workshops:  Our FOIA training has slowed as the staff at the Library of Virginia has not been available.  P. Casalaspi stated that the new staffing has been funded and should be available soon.  It was suggested that M. Rhyne do a webinar on the training but she needs technical assistance.

            Membership, 181 have paid dues or received their invoice, including seven new or returning persons including Helen Dragas of the UVA Board of Visitors. 

            Public Engagements:  M. Rhyne included a list of eleven events in which she participated.  M. Rhyne conducted a FOIA open records class for the Christopher Wren Association at William and Mary.  She has been asked to repeat the class.  The list of events attended was included in the Executive Directors report.

            Grants:  Four applications are due in May from family foundations.


VCOG remains active on Social Media.  Twitter 1255 followers, 453 Facebook Likes, 459 Daily Newsletter subscribers, 501 Monthly email newsletter subscribers.


Open Discussion

            Annual Conference: Many had positive comments about the last conference and the hacking event that participants did to access court records. The venue was not as popular.

            The idea of hosting the November annual conference will perhaps be in Fredericksburg this fall.  Ideas for topics include body camera policy, license plate readers, drones,  transparency at the GA, and death penalty secrecy concerns.

            The July VCOG board meeting will be in Williamsburg.  R. Megan will circulate some dates for maximum attendance and announce the location.

            President Fifer moved to adjourn, P. Casalaspi seconded the motion.  The motion passed and the meeting adjourned at 1:48 p.m.

Respectfully submitted by
Olga Hernandez,