VCOG board meeting minutes, 3/20/09 - Norfolk

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Board of Directors
March 20, 2009

Norfolk Waterside Marriott,
Norfolk, Virginia

Draft Minutes

The meeting was called to order at 3:05 p.m., by Lawrence McConnell, President.

The following Board members were present:  Lawrence McConnell, President; Dorothy Abernathy, Vice President; Craig Fifer, Secretary; Peter Maroney, Treasurer; Lee Albright; Paul Casalapsi; Doug Easter; John Edwards; Jane Elizabeth; Dick Hammerstrom; John Moen; Thomas Moncure; Patricia O'Bannon; Ginger Stanley.

Also present were Megan Rhyne, Executive Director; and Craig Forbes, of The Forbes-Washburn Group.

McConnell welcomed new Board member Dick Hammerstrom, who succeeded Ed Jones as a Virginia Press Association appointee.

John Edwards, chair of the Nominating Committee, reported that Ed Jones' acceptance of another term as secretary was contingent upon the recruitment of a replacement.  On behalf of the committee, Edwards moved the election of Craig Fifer as secretary.  Dorothy Abernathy seconded the motion.  By a unanimous voice vote, Fifer was elected secretary.

Megan Rhyne, executive director, reported that she received a note from former president Paul McMasters to wish the Coalition well.

Upon a motion by Edwards, seconded by Peter Maroney, the minutes from the Nov. 21, 2008, meeting of the Board were unanimously approved by voice vote.

Maroney, chair of the Finance Committee, introduced Craig Forbes of The Forbes-Washburn Group.  Forbes reported that he has been providing monthly updates of the Coalition’s investments.  Forbes gave an overview of the investment market, and the likely effect on the Coalition's investments.  Before leaving the meeting, Forbes answered questions from Board members.

There was some discussion of whether the Coalition should move funds from equities to treasury bills, as a safety measure during perilous economic times.  Patricia O'Bannon said that any analysis of the market should also include consideration of trends, which have been negative.  Rhyne reminded the Board that Forbes makes an annual report on the Coalition's investments.  O'Bannon indicated that conservatively managed organizations are moving funds to treasury bills and cash, away from less predictable investments.

Edwards asked if the Finance Committee required additional authority to move funds.  Maroney indicated that he would prefer formal guidance from the Board to that effect. 

Maroney moved that the Finance Committee be instructed to evaluate the Coalition's investment allocations, and move up to 100% of such funds to a more conservative posture.  Edwards seconded the motion.  After some discussion, the motion was approved unanimously by voice vote.

Maroney reported that the Finance Committee will have a recommendation at the June meeting for an audit firm.  Maroney called the Board's attention to the FY08-09 operating budget and the FY09-10 projected budget.  Rhyne described the reports, and indicated that future budget documents will include a month-by-month comparison of budgeted versus actual figures.

McConnell reported that 21 of the 25 board members have purchased personal memberships, and encouraged the remaining members to contact the executive director with any questions.

McConnell reported that the Executive Committee recommended that the Board approve an upgrade of the Coalition's directors and officers liability coverage, from $25,000 to $250,000, with a corresponding increase in the deductible from $5,000 to $25,000.  The annual premium would increase by $10.  Upon a motion Edwards, seconded by Doug Easter, the Board adopted the Executive Committee's recommendation by a unanimous voice vote.

McConnell reported that, if the Coalition’s current $1 million publication and employee liability policy is renewed, the annual premium will increase from $1,438 to $1,668.  The Executive Committee received a proposal to purchase a combination of two new policies, which together would provide expanded coverage in the amount of $2 million, at an annual premium of $2,100.  In consideration of the Coalition's finances, the Executive Committee recommended that the present policy be retained and renewed.  Upon a motion by Hammerstrom, seconded by Easter, the recommendation was unanimously approved by voice vote.

Rhyne reported that the Coalition has retained the services of a new accounting firm in Williamsburg, and the transition has been successful.  McConnell reported that, upon the recommendation of the treasurer, a new check-signing procedure has been put into effect.

On behalf of the Marketing Committee, McConnell reported that the committee met by telephone to plan an effort to promote Sunshine Week and the Coalition itself.  The Coalition is the coordinator for Sunshine Week in Virginia.  The committee commissioned Sunshine Week promotional advertisements for newspaper, radio, and television, which were produced by The Daily Progress, Piedmont Communications, and WVIR-29, respectively.  McConnell distributed copies of the newspaper ad, and played the television ad for the Board.

Paul Casalaspi, chair of the Awards Committee, reported that a solicitation for award nominations is available on the Coalition's Web site, and that the Library of Virginia is distributing the announcement, as well.  Casalaspi has also contacted the webmaster for the state Web site, to see if further distribution can be made.  There are award categories for citizens, government, and media.  The deadline for nominations is August 1.

Edwards, chair of the Membership Committee, reported that the committee will ask each board member to recruit two new Coalition members, and to help arrange speaking engagements for the executive director to appear before local groups.

Abernathy asked if it would be helpful for the Board to authorize a discount for the new memberships, in recognition of the economy.  Edwards said that he didn't believe such a discount would be necessary, but that the issue could be revisited in six months.

Rhyne reported that new membership applications were received from the following individuals between Nov. 22, 2008, and Mar. 13, 2009. Upon a motion by Edwards, seconded by Maroney, the new members were unanimously approved by voice vote.

Abernathy, chair of the Annual Conference Committee, reported that the committee has met by telephone to discuss the program for the annual conference in October.  Ideas include candidates for statewide office in 2009, the Obama Administration's transparency initiative, media law, judicial selection, and access initiatives.  Abernathy solicited additional ideas for conference programs.

Hammerstrom suggested a program element to address issues with judges who are not aware of access requirements for court hearings and records.

Fifer reported that he had occasion to speak with Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Antonin Scalia at a recent event, and invited them to speak at the conference.  Although the attempt was not immediately successful, he asked Abernathy to follow up with a written invitation.

Jane Elizabeth suggested providing an electronic parallel to the physical conference program, since travel budgets may be limited this year.  Easter and Fifer suggested that consideration be given to holding future conferences in more densely populated areas, and/or in conjunction with other larger events.

Rhyne reported that the 2009 General Assembly session was fairly light on access issues.  She referred the Board to a chart of access-related legislation to be published in the March newsletter.  Rhyne further reported that she has just hired a new intern, Gardner Rordam, through a recent public interest job fair.  Rordam is a first-year law student at the College of William and Mary, and happens to be the son of the mayor of Blacksburg.

McConnell reminded the Board that five new committees have been created: Membership, Bylaws, Audit, Tech Issues, and Marketing/Advertising.

Rhyne reported that Virginia Commonwealth University's CreateAThon program has turned down the Coalition’s request for assistance with producing marketing materials, primarily because the program prefers to assist organizations with a specific Richmond service area.

Rhyne further reported that, when Web site visitors were asked how they came upon the Coalition, the overwhelming majority responded that they had used an Internet search engine.

McConnell reported that the Executive Committee discussed the fact that, in 2010, the Coalition will have to begin using the new format for IRS Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax), and that the executive director will be monitoring the associated requirements.

Rhyne requested that Board members send her their photographs, for use in future publications as appropriate.  Rhyne will follow up with an e-mail to Board members.

Rhyne reported that the lawyer who successfully argued to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals against Delaware's residency requirement for FOIA requests has found a case to challenge Virginia's similar requirement.

McConnell reported that the Board is invited to the Virginia Press Association's Past Presidents reception, following the adjournment of the Board meeting.

Rhyne reported that Board member Waldo Jaquith is challenging a subpoena to identify the authors of comments on his blog, and that he is now represented by counsel.

There being no further business to come before the Board, McConnell adjourned the meeting at  5:11 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Craig Fifer