VCOG Board of Directors meeting minutes May 31, 2018

VCOG Board of Directors Minutes

Virginia Coalition for Open Government

Board of Directors Meeting

Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond

May 31, 2018



Board Members present:   President, Dick Hammerstrom; Secretary, Stephen Hayes, Maria Everett, Shelley Kimball, Wat Hopkins, Lawrence McConnell, Lou Emerson, Paul Casalaspi, Jonathan Williams, Sacha Purciful, Paul Fletcher, Craig Fifer, Bob Gibson, Betsy Edwards and Megan Rhyne.

Call to Order – Hammerstrom called the meet to order at 2:43pm and verified that a quorum was present.  Minutes from Nov 15, 2017 Board Meeting approved after a revision to the minutes:  Shelley Kimball attended 11/15/17 meeting.


Megan welcome and introduced two new Board Members, Sacha Purciful and Maria Everett. to


Executive Director’s Report – Megan, Maria and Craig spent the morning presenting at the annual FOIA and Records Management Seminar.  129 attendees.    This follows four (4) webinars from Tidewater Community College.  Challenging to identify just how many participants join the webinar but 200-300 sign up and survey responses Megan noted that many times “groups” of people are watching on line.  Looks like more webinars will be scheduled in the future.  Additionally, there have been numerous requests for Law Enforcement sessions.


Annual Conference (Nov17) Overview:    Megan shared VCOG did attain its goal of raising $11,000.   She also highlighted the historical conference chart which reflected registrations remaining flat over the years with sponsorship dollars trending slightly upward.  In breaking down donors, Corporate donors are up, but individual donors to the conference are down (low 30s vs. a high of 55 in Fredericksburg a couple years ago).   Megan urged the Board with Annual Conference moving from its fall time slot to the Spring of 2019 (Sunshine week) that all board members be actively involved in sponsorships.   GOAL:  One (1) Corporate Sponsorship and One (1) Individual Sponsorship for each Board Member.


Summary of Macoia Richmond’s Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship.  Good experience overall, but Megan did disclose that Macoia accepted a second internship with a legislator which impacted her schedule and time as it relates to the Woodrum Internship.   In the future, it’s important we reinforce that this internship is not to coincide with other similar activities.


Andrew Abraham, a rising 2nd year law student at University of Richmond is VCOG’s Richardson Legal Fellow.  On Andrew’s first day he participated in a FOIA Council Meeting in which Megan volunteered him to do a survey about how other states are handling FOIA issues.  Abraham’s survey first draft, per Megan, was very impressive and he was thrilled to be making a tangible impact!

Sunshine Week.  Megan thanked everyone for “our rejuvenated efforts to make sunshine week more relevant.”  Op Editorials written by Dick, Shelley and Jeff Lester, as well as Lawrence encouraging his managing editor to produce a commentary on the topic.   Story behind the Story, sponsored by the Press Association (thanks Betsy).  Also three webinars using the YouTube “live” function.  While not high attendance, there did seem to be a buzz around the week.   Plan to tie a conference to Sunshine week in 2019 and generate revenue.


Megan included a link in materials to the Transparency Virginia Report.   Current make up is five active members:  Virginia League of Women Voters, Va. Poverty Law Center, VCOG, Beck Bowers Lanier (healthcare lobbyist) and Steve Rossi (Family Foundation). Focus on three (3) core areas:  1) recording votes, 2) consideration of bills and 3) notice of meetings.   As a result of member actions, the House now records all of its motions to defeat bills.  Percentage of bills which died with an unrecorded vote, went from 88% last year to 33% this year.  Significant, positive change for the House.


Public Engagement.  Included a summary of “inquiries.”   Law Enforcement, from a substantive perspective, continues to be the biggest category of questions.  Followed by more procedural questions.

Megan highlighted the Virginia Economic Developers Association Conference on April 13th.   Great opportunity for VCOG to communicate why concerns are raised over certain economic development issues.


Social media engagement.  There has been an increase in followers and engagement on Facebook.  Megan asked to be sure and “like” and “share” VCOG through corporate pages or personal pages Board members may be affiliated.


FOIA Council update.  Three study committees currently active this summer.   REMEDIES subcommittee,

RECORDS subcommittee and subcommittee on PUBLIC COMMENT PERIODS.   Our interns have been involved in formulating research, reporting on the subcommittee on public comment periods. New legislative members on the FOIA Counsel.  Richard Anderson is debating whether to join.  Unfortunate that the legislative members do not come to the subcommittee meeting. Their presence lent a sense of urgency that is now absent.



Nominations Committee -   Lawrence O’Donnell provided report.   

At annual conference, we added Maria Everett to Board of Directors.  Additionally,  Sacha Purciful, General Manager of WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg, is the newest VCOG appointee by VAB.  VAB is still working on one more vacancy.  Olga Hernandez has resigned her seat on the Board of Directors to be closer to her family in Florida which creates a total of four open at-large seats.  The nominations committee will be working on these as well as other vacancies that will arise with conclusion of upcoming terms.


Megan emphasized there is a form to propose new board members.  It can be found under “About Us”  on VCOG website.



Membership ReportMegan Rhyne

Membership has been steady between 155 and 165.  Peak membership was 180, but recession lessened media outlet participation.  Style Weekly (Richmond) has returned as a member.




The Virginia Supreme Court ruling - Bragg vs. Board of Supervisors.  One of the few times we’ve had a citizen receive a favorable judgment in regard to an open meetings violation (against the Rappahannock Board of Supervisors).   


VCOG filed an amicus brief in the case of Bergano vs. the City of Va. Beach.  The city filed an eminent domain claim against a dentist in Va. Beach.   The dentist challenged the city for withholding detailed billing records related to the case.  Steve Emmert approached VCOG about filing an amicus brief in which Chris Gatewood quickly responded.  Megan petitioned the Knight Foundation Litigation Fund to reimburse costs of suits (but not attorneys’ fees).  As a result, we were reimbursed $800 for processing.  This case is still pending.


Review of a Virginia Supreme Court case coming out of Smyth County about whether the board gave improper notice of a closed meeting.  This meeting’s program turned from the proposed agenda to whether to dissolve the local/regional library which was not on the motion to close that meeting.


GMU gaining access to records associated with donor agreements…in particular with the University and the Koch brothers.   VCOG filed an amicus brief in a pretrial stage when GMU was asserting they were immune from suit.  The students asked for records from the donors about the foundations.  The foundations responded they are not subject to FOIA.  Students went to GMU to access the records.

Ruling on the circuit court level is that “you are not immune from suit, but there is not declaratory judgment/action under FOIA.”   The case is continuing to proceed and currently pending.


Judge in Charlotte County allowed a school board member to charge $25 an hour for searching data base instead of $2.50.  Craig questioned the judgment and emphasized that technically there should be no cost as it does not interfere with that school member’s other responsibilities.


In Powhatan County, the judge capped charges.  Most of the ruling in this case was against the citizen.  The court stated that the exemptions were correctly applied.  There were not violations in following the timelines.   


Finally, a Norfolk case was interesting in that they tracked down the city’s responses and when those responses were delivered.   One response, “Can you clarify what you mean by your request?”  The judge stated, “there is no need for clarification, and just because you asked for clarification does not mean that the time clock stops.”   Because of this, Norfolk Circuit court found the city failed to respond in the allotted 5-day response time.   


Megan stated there seems to be an increase in FOIA cases.   General Agreement from the Board.



From a bills perspective, the number of pro access, citizen friendly items have steadily increased over the past couple of years.  Specifically, in the House, not so much in the Senate.  Good sign even though bills still have trouble passing.   But “activity” is a very good development!   Megan feels the Transparency Virginia reports are having an impact on more citizen engagement.      


Megan referred to the FOIA Council bills in our Board Meeting packets.


Betsy Edwards reviewed the Court Clerks bill and database case.   Daily Press attempted to access since it had been available in past years.   The Supreme Court rejected this. The compromise was giving clerks what they wanted and protect their custodianships, but allowing data to be accessed on a statewide basis.



Finance Report:   Strong May revenue as a result of Broadcaster and Press Association submissions, both very important to our bottom line.   This will be the first year of late that Megan will transfer everything we budgeted for the endowment.    


Paul went over endowment activity spreadsheet.   He highlighted that as we take money out of the endowment, VCOG is lucky in that we are still earning more through the returns on the investment.  Overall annual gain is 8.2%, even with the withdrawals, we are still earning 3.8% in 2018.    


Total return since we switched to Vanguard is averaging about 10% per year and 4.1% after withdrawals.   As a result, endowment is continuing to grow.    Broker fees much less with Vanguard vs. previous firm.


Megan presented a draft budget for 2019.   The focus is keeping expenses down as revenue and dues continue to be unpredictable.


Board member asked about researching grants.  Megan referenced Betty Kent Smith who met with Megan and made suggestions.  She prepared a grant to SunTrust which did not evolve; however, Megan has used Betty’s template for smaller grants.  VCOG did receive a grant of $2,500 from a local Community Foundation.


New Business

Dick Hammerstrom brought up “police body cams.”  A couple examples.  First, a recent shooting of “naked man” running around Richmond.  Police released video of body cam of police officer involved in this is incident.  Secondly, in Fredericksburg, the police chief released three different cams (2 dash cams and 1 body cam) that showed an officer violating their rules.  Dick asked if there are other examples.   Group responded that most of the time the police are not releasing video with the response “it’s an ongoing investigation.”   Dick offered that it seems law enforcement is only releasing video if it is to their benefit.  Megan referenced a column by RTD Michael Paul Williams in which police did not release video to a citizen for the reason the citizen had in their words an “anti-law enforcement” agenda.   Law enforcement also states it cannot release video to the public due to “potential editing of the material.”  Craig Fifer and other board members responded that editing can be alleviated by releasing the video to everyone.


Shelley Kimball asked for feedback on the FOIA Council’s mission.  It’s not been updated since early 2000s.   Legislative engagement and attendance a priority.   Megan brought up the FOIA Council was originally created as an alternative to litigation.   Agencies would use the FOIA Council as an arbitrator.  Unfortunately, this is currently not happening.   How can we make the FOIA Council the relevant authority?  Maria proposed asking for additional funding to the FOIA Council so the council has the resources to do the training?


Megan noted VCOG received a Proclamation from the Governor celebrating FOIA’s 50th Anniversary.


Dick Hammerstrom adjourned the meeting at 4:46pm.

Submitted by Stephen Hayes, VCOG Secretary