VCOG board meeting minutes, 3/19/10

Virginia Coalition for Open Government

Board of Directors

March 19, 2010

Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center

Roanoke, Virginia

Draft Minutes

The meeting was called to order at 1:53 p.m., by Lawrence McConnell, President.

The following Board members were present: Lawrence McConnell, President; Dorothy Abernathy, Vice President; Craig Fifer, Secretary; Lee Albright; Paul Casalaspi; John Edwards; Dick Hammerstrom; Harry Hammitt; Waldo Jaquith; Pam Luecke; Matt Paxton; Ginger Stanley. Also present was Megan Rhyne, Executive Director.

McConnell congratulated several Board members for their recent accomplishments:

· John Edwards was selected to receive the Virginia Press Association Lifetime Achievement Award on March 20.

· Waldo Jaquith received local media recognition for his Web site,

· Ed Jones was commended by the Virginia General Assembly on the occasion of his selection for induction into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame on April 1.

· Patricia O’Bannon was appointed to the Virginia Association of Counties Telecommunications and Utilities Steering Committee.

· Rod Smolla was appointed president of Furman University, effective June 30.

Upon a motion by Hammerstrom, seconded by Edwards, the minutes from the October 15, 2009, meeting of the Board were unanimously approved by voice vote.

Edwards, chair of the Nominating Committee, reminded the Board of the need to fill the seats designated for representatives of the Virginia Press Association and Virginia Association of Broadcasters. Stanley reported that the VPA representatives will be selected on March 20. Rhyne reported that she has not yet received word from the VAB regarding their representatives.

Edwards further reminded the Board of the two vacancies that have existed since the expansion of the Board in 2008. Edwards reported that the Nominating Committee recommended Forrest Landon (a current member of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council and former executive director of the Coalition) and Jeff South (a professor of journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University). Upon a motion by Abernathy, seconded by Paxton, nominations were closed by unanimous voice vote. Landon and South were unanimously appointed to the Board, by voice vote.

Hammerstrom suggested that South be solicited to provide student assistance for the Coalition’s October meetings and conference in Richmond.

On behalf of Peter Maroney, chair of the Finance Committee, Rhyne delivered a report on the Coalition’s budget. Rhyne reported that the Coalition has applied for $4,890 grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, to cover the cost of improvements to the Coalition’s Web site. Rhyne also reported that the Coalition has transferred $21,000 from the endowment fund to the operating fund, and that financial manager Craig Forbes is scheduled to present at the June Board meeting.

Rhyne further reported that the Coalition has received the results of its first financial audit, which found no irregularities. Stanley asked about the auditor’s comment that the Coalition uses the cash method of accounting, and Rhyne said she would ask the auditor for clarification. Upon a motion by Edwards, seconded by Luecke, the audit report was accepted unanimously by voice vote. Luecke asked how often future audits should be conducted, and McConnell referred the question to the Finance Committee. Jaquith asked if there were any surprises during the audit process, and Rhyne said there were not.

McConnell delivered the report of the Executive Committee, which met just prior to the full Board. He reported that Rhyne’s activities since the last meeting focused on the General Assembly session. McConnell related a discussion about the Coalition changing its legislative posture over time to be more proactive about seeking legislative changes, and referred this issue to the Legislative Committee. Edwards said that the creation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council has essentially resulted in the elimination of major FOIA studies and expansion of the Act, and that the Council typically defends current law rather than expands it. Edwards said he hopes the Coalition will work on major issues and potential expansions of the Act.

McConnell reported that the Futures Committee met in February. He distributed a summary of a five-year plan that focuses on the objective of reaching critical mass in audience, membership, and dollars. He said that the committee’s next meeting will use their existing work as a blueprint for a more detailed strategic plan and a five-year financial plan, which will be presented to the Board at the June meeting in conjunction with the budget. Hammerstrom underscored the importance of the Coalition's student membership rate.

Fifer commended Rhyne for the variety of publications she has created, which add significant value to Coalition membership and subscribership. McConnell discussed the idea of partnering with other organizations to allow their members to opt-in to Coalition publications. Edwards raised the idea of restricting publications to members, which Fifer suggested referring to the Marketing Committee for a recommendation. Abernathy asked how many members and e-mail subscribers the Coalition had, and Rhyne said it was about 150 and 300, respectively.

Rhyne reported that the 2010 General Assembly session was not particularly bad for access issues, since the legislators’ focus was on the budget:

  • The worst bill (HB449, dealing with “harassment by FOIA”) was referred to the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council for study.
  • HB79, which would have eliminated public access to concealed handgun permit records, died in a Senate subcommittee.
  • HB903 and SB207, which would amend FOIA to restrict access to records of college and university threat assessment teams, passed the General Assembly after negotiation that added exceptions to respond to concerns from the access community and privacy advocates.
  • HB1028, which would amend FOIA to clarify that public meetings cannot be held in locations that prohibit recording, passed the General Assembly unanimously.
  • HB518, which also passed the General Assembly unanimously, clarified the definition of “criminal investigative file,” among other amendments to FOIA. The bill was the result of a joint effort by the Virginia Press Association and the Virginia State Police.
  • The Coalition worked with the Virginia Press Association to defeat HB282, HB401, HB586, and HB766, each of which would have relaxed requirements for public bodies to place public notices in newspapers.
  • SB431 with amendments, which passed the General Assembly unanimously, would improve access to online spending data from the Auditor of Public Accounts.
  • Although there were many bills proposing to make changes to ethics rules, the General Assembly did not enact the kind of sweeping ethics reform that had been a major topic of discussion in the 2010 session. However, the General Assembly did pass a bill (HB655) to make ethics investigations open to the public.

Stanley echoed that the session was good for access issues. Hammerstrom predicted that concealed handgun permits will continue to be an issue. Fifer suggested attacking the red herrings that have been used to argue for restricting access (such as personal information related to law enforcement officers and petitioners for restraining orders) rather than rehashing same fight every year.

Jaquith, chair of the Marketing Committee, reported that Rhyne has arranged for attorneys to receive one hour of continuing legal education (CLE) credit for studying the Coalition PowerPoint presentation she created. Jaquith also reported that the Coalition is now using the Vertical Response e-mail service to improve the efficiency and appearance of e-mails to members and subscribers.

Edwards, chair of the Membership Committee, called the Board’s attention to the membership report provided by Rhyne. Edwards further reported that the Coalition will make a post-session push to members of the General Assembly and to newspapers. He raised the question of whether there should be a membership category for online news publications and bloggers, which was referred to the Membership Committee for consideration. Edwards commended Rhyne for her recent membership pushes, which have resulted in total dues currently only $863 short of the Coalition’s annual goal.

Rhyne reported that new membership applications were received from the following individuals and approved by the Executive Director between October 16, 2009, and March 19, 2010:

  • Hon. Gerald Baliles, Charlottesville
  • Anthony Gambardella, Richmond
  • David Griffin, Winchester
  • Isle of Wight Citizens Association
  • Quinn Robinson, Dilwyn
  • Pendleton Rogers, Richmond
  • Private Investigators & Security Association

Rhyne gave an update on the National Freedom of Information Coalition Summit, to be held in May. Rhyne reported that panels will include Coalition Board members Lucy Daglish and Ginger Stanley, as well as Miriam Nisbet (the federal government’s first FOIA ombudsman). NFOIC would like help soliciting sponsorships. McDonnell asked each Board member to forward one potential sponsor to Rhyne.

Rhyne reported that the Coalition’s Annual Conference will be held in October, in Richmond, and that she is working on hotels.

Rhyne referred to staff activity report. She added that Steven Pierce has been hired as an intern. Pierce is a rising second-year law student at the University of Richmond and will be working out of Northern Virginia.

Jaquith asked about the status of the fund that had been suggested in the past to assist with the cost of litigation to enforce access rights. McConnell said that the Board member who had been worked on the idea had resigned, and Jaquith said he would explore the fund idea.

Rhyne reported that she has looked into the possibility of a Coalition license plate. She handed out information about the requirements for such a plate.

Rhyne reported on the success of the annual Sunshine Week, which included the distribution of a DVD with an public service announcement; an op-ed piece written by Rhyne for publication in newspapers across the state; a roundup on the Coalition website; and a reception at the General Assembly Building co-sponsored by the Coalition, the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, the Virginia Press Association, and the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council. Rhyne added that this year’s Sunshine Week included a focus on local “FOIA heroes,” and that a couple from Waynesboro won third place in a national Local Heroes contest.

Paxton offered to give Rhyne a complimentary subscription to the online version of the News-Gazette and suggested she contact other subscription-only sites for similar access.

Hammitt informed the Board that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit would be hearing a case challenging residency requirements for access to FOIA rights.

Casalapsi solicited members for the Awards Committee and nominations for awards.

The next meeting of the Board of Directors will take place on June 24, 2010, in Virginia Beach, in conjunction with the Virginia Association of Broadcasters’ meeting. The following meeting will take place on October 21 or 22, 2010, in Richmond, in conjunction with the Coalition’s Annual Conference.

There being no further business to come before the Board, McConnell adjourned the meeting at 3:55 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Craig Fifer