VCOG board of directors minutes July 24 2015

Virginia Coalition for Open Government

Board of Directors Meeting
Minutes of July 24, 2015

Daily Press, Newport News, VA

Board Members present:  President, Craig Fifer; VP Dick Hammerstrom; Treasurer, Paul Casalaspi; Secretary, Olga Hernandez; Immediate Past President, Dorothy Abernathy (via conference call); Melody Himel Clarke; Brian Colligan; Peter Easter; Christopher Gatewood; Stephen Hayes; Frosty Landon; Jeff Lester; Frank LoMonte (via conference call); Lawrence McConnell; Patricia O’Bannon; Nancy Kent Smith; Ginger Stanley; Jonathan Williams and Executive Director, Megan Rhyne. Also in attendance, former board member Marisa Porto.

Board Members Absent: Brian Eckert, Lou Emerson, Paul Fletcher, Bob Gibson, Mark Grunewald, Wat Hopkins and Jeff South.

President C. Fifer called the meeting to order at 1:16 p.m.

Announcements:  President C. Fifer congratulated Dick Hammerstrom, in his position as new assistant editorial page editor at the Free Lance-Star.

Craig Fifer noted that he receive the Washington Post endorsement for the 45th House of Delegate primary race. Though he came in second place he learned much about running for office. 

President Fifer welcomed board member Brian Colligan, Daily Press editorial page editor, as the new VPA representative to the VCOG Board.  He replaces Marisa Porto who was appointed to the FOIA Council.

Minutes:  J. Williams noted that he attended the April board meeting, the minutes will be corrected.  D. Hammerstrom moved and O. Hernandez seconded approval of the minutes of April 23, 2015, as corrected.  P. O’Bannon abstained noting she was not at the April meeting.  The minutes were approved.

Executive Committee Report:  M. Rhyne has researched and applied for three for grants.  She noted the many small foundations only donate to entities on their list.  She is working to get our name on these lists.  She spends 2 days about every other week working on grants. The J. Edwin Treakle grant was turned down but she has hope for next year. The other two have not replied.

Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship:  Zhina Kamali’s final report has been sent to the 20 largest donors to the fund.  President Fifer commended M. Rhyne for organizing the work and stated pride in offering the intern a worthy experience. 

The Summer Richardson Internship was not filled this year due to poor quality candidates.  Consulting with the VCOG President and VP, instead a college student was hired to develop a real world FOIA problems/issues database.  It is a work in progress.

FOIA Litigation:  VCOG filed a pro bono amicus brief in circuit court McCarthy v. City of Virginia Beach a case where parents of suicide victim sought the police report.  They were denied by using FOIA exemption for criminal investigations.  The court ruled for the city, stating  that they had the discretion to withhold the records. 

Surovell v. Department of Corrections (DOC), VCOG filed an amicus brief with the Virginia Supreme Court on grounds that the release of electrocution death chamber documents could be redacted and DOCs refusal to do so nullified FOIA’s multiple references to the duty to redact.  A decision is expected in September.

McCarthy v City of Virginia Beach, a brief was filed on the point of 1: The blanket denial of the suicide records essentially negated the discretion to use an exemption and 2: that the courts did not have authority to determine whether discretion was exercised.  The judge ruled for the city and denied the family the record.  The family may appeal.
A Greene County potential case was averted, with M. Rhyne’s help, when the county produced the county manager’s employment records.

Annual Conference:  2015 Conference is scheduled for Thursday, November 12, at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio Pavilion in Fredericksburg. Our contact at Mary Washington is seeking to help with the location fee.  Panel ideas are new technology issues including drone use, license plate readers, police body cameras, databases, FOIA texting, email privacy, and public-private  partnerships.  M. Rhyne is looking for speaker names, and potential sponsors.  Legislation may be submitted on body cameras use and management.  Del. Rich Anderson was suggested as he is working on the license plate reader issue.

Workshops:  S. Hayes of WTVR will be helping to produce video webinars of FOIA records management and training workshops. 

Social media numbers are up.  Twitter now has 1,321 followers, Facebook 460 likes, Daily newsletter subscriber is down three but the monthly newsletter is up to 510.  Master distribution list is 2,757 for the monthly newsletter.

Transparency Virginia: The group is now headed by Becky Bowers-Lanier a longtime lobbyist.  They intend to send a message to all GA candidates soliciting ideas on enhancing transparency.  A follow-up will be done after the election.  The group plans to continue the same criteria for monitoring the committees.

Membership & Audience Development: VCOG currently has 180 members, several lapsed members have renewed. 

Public Engagement as listed on her report: 

  • Public training in Staunton June 6,
  • Attended FOIA Council meeting and subcommittee meetings May, June, & July and
  • Attended Virginia Transparency meeting in May, June & July
  • AARP advocacy FOIA presentation
  • State Historical Records Advisory Board in June
  • Presentation to the League of Women Voters of South Hampton Roads  in June
  • Appeared on Del. Ken Plums cable news show in July
  • Fielded 180 phone and email inquiries over a two week period in May.
  • Will be attending Newsroom training for Richmond Times Dispatch in August, NFOIA Summit in Denver in October and moderating a panel on open data,  will present a continuing legal education workshop for Statewide Legal Aid Conference in late October

M. Rhyne expressed thanks for the condolences and donations received in honor of her late father.  $1,560 has been received in his honor at the family’s request.

Finance Report:  VPA donation has been reduced to $7,500.  Ended the year with a $3,141 deficit, but not all the money budgeted was transferred from the endowment.  Dues fell short of expectations but were close to budget.   Income from organizations & trade groups, law firms & lawyers and government entities are up.  We received no grants.  Expenses were kept as low as possible through careful reductions in costs.  Conference income $801 above budget with many sponsorships.  Aiming for $10,000 this year.  Endowment is being moved by the Treasurer to the Vanguard account as decided last meeting. 

Proposed budget of $81,833 was presented.  Discussion ensued on the need to enhance revenue via grants, membership or events and how to go about it.  The presented budget was corrected to reflect the reduced VPA contribution.  P. Easter again stated the need to concentrate on obtaining grant funding.  Many prior grants came from NFOIC but they no longer do grants and neither does the Knight Foundation which now concentrates more on tech issues. 

Much discussion ensued on how to raise revenue.  P. O’Bannon suggested that a committee be set up to help and develop strategies to raise revenue.  P. O’Bannon, M. Scalley Clarke, N. Kent Smith and S. Hayes will serve on the committee.  They may look into professional fundraisers as the current board does not have available talent.  It was suggested that M. Rhyne meet with and get information from some professional fundraiser consultants with a proposal for the next board meeting.  P. O’Bannon will assist in getting some potential names.  M. Scalley Clarke suggested that on the VCOG front webpage a pop-up message be used to drive donations and membership, even though annoying.  President Fifer also suggested a note on other information pages to ask for support. 

The budget was amended to reflect the $2,500 reduction in the VPA contribution and an increase in the endowment transfer by the same amount of $2,500 to keep things in balance.  M. Rhyne noted that the transfer amounts need to be aligned in the categories where they were spent.  This does not affect the totals.  The amended budget, was moved by P. Easter seconded by D. Hammerstrom, the vote passed unanimously.  M. Rhyne will send the board a clean copy of the budget.

President Fifer noted that our committees need to be more active and work needs to be done between board meetings.

Nominations:  Chair L. McConnell noted that three VPA and VAB seats expire by years end so those entities need to appoint of reappoint their representatives.  Currently VPA appointees are Brian Colligan, Lou Emerson, Lawrence McConnell.  VAB appointees are Dorothy Abernathy, Melody Scalley Clarke, Nancy Kent Smith.  At-large seats, that expire at the end of 2015, are held by Paul Casalaspi, Craig Fifer, Bob Gibson, Olga Hernandez, Frosty Landon, Mark Grunewald Pat O’Bannon and Jeff South.  The committee recommends reappointment of all except Mark Grunewald who declined reappointment.  The committee also recommends Michelle Bush Kimball of George Washington University, she teaches First Amendment law, for an at-large seat.  There are still two at large seats open on the board.  S. Hayes moved and G. Stanley seconded that we accept the recommendations of the committee. 

Open Discussion:  Former Del. Albert Pollard asked for VCOG to lead an effort and support a more open process on the selection of State Corporation Commission judges.  After some discussion consensus was that we support openness but that this issue is political and not a priority for us.  Mr. Pollard will be informed of our decision.

Reform of the Futures Committee:  M. Rhyne reminded the board that our five-year plan, developed in 2010 has expired.  L. McConnell, S. Hayes and D. Abernathy volunteered to set a new vision plan for the future. Statements of interest by VPA and VAB will be sought. M. Rhyne will send an email to those not in attendance.

VCOG 20th Anniversary:  A sponsor for a commemorative General Assembly joint resolution will be sought to acknowledge our two decades of service. 

P. Easter stated a request that all future meetings be held in the Richmond area.  The April 8, 2016, meeting will be held at the Virginia Press Association venue in Glen Allen and it was suggested VCOG align its spring meeting with this date.

Adjournment:  President Fifer adjourned the meeting at 3:05 p.m.

Next Board meeting will be November 11 or 12, the Conference will be on the 12th in Fredericksburg.

Respectfully submitted by

Olga Hernandez,