VCOG Board minutes, 11/29/07

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
(Draft) Minutes, Fall Board Meeting
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007
VPA Headquarters, Richmond, VA

Present: Wat Hopkins, president; Dorothy Abernathy, vice president; Ed Jones, secretary; Lee Albright; Cy Dillon; John Edwards; Jane Elizabeth; Lawrence McConnell; John Moen; Tom Moncure; Robert O'Neil; Don Richards; Ginger Stanley, Virginia Press Association; Peter Easter, Virginia Association of Broadcasters; Jennifer Perkins, executive director; Megan Rhyne, associate director; Frosty Landon, former executive director; Joe Smith, counsel.

President Hopkins called the meeting to order at 12:45 p.m.
Richards moved approval of the minutes of the summer board meeting in Virginia Beach, with Abernathy seconding. The minutes were approved unanimously.

Perkins presented the final draft of the 2007-08 budget. O'Neil moved approval. The motion passed unanimously.

New board members Tom Moncure and Jane Elizabeth were recognized and welcomed.

Perkins and Rhyne presented Landon with the Founding Father Award from VCOG. Landon also received a scrapbook filled with tributes for his service to the coalition.

Perkins reported on VCOG's investment accounts. She described the investment strategy as moderate. Later in the meeting, Easter asked if VCOG currently has a Finance Committee. Hopkins said he will appoint one.

Perkins reported on staff activities. She and Rhyne have fielded inquiries on a regular basis from the public and media. Perkins also hosted a delegation of six reporters from the West Bank at an event at the Thomas Jefferson Center near Charlottesville.

Perkins reported on preparations for a possible VCOG annual conference in Fredericksburg on May 22 and 23. She stressed the importance of public participation, and her hope that publicity can be generated for programs of general interest. The conference might offer two tracks, one of which would be more advanced. The possible conference hotel is the Wingate Inn south of Fredericksburg, with an $88 room rate.

In a discussion of bills being considered by the FOIA Council, Perkins expressed concern about a proposed FOI exemption for donors to the University of Virginia and other institutions of higher learning. She noted the possibility of a bad precedent for exempting such "personal information," and pointed out that anonymous donations already can be made to university foundations.

Perkins proposed revisions to VCOG's newsletter. She suggested that it be shorter, and distributed four times a year, rather than two. She would like to improve the design of the publication and produce more "people stories" that would interest a broader audience. After the first edition of the revised newsletter, Perkins will seek feedback from board members and other readers.

Perkins suggested changes to the procedures for approving new members of VCOG. Her goals are to increase public membership, expedite the process and offer credit-card dues payments. Currently, the board approves all member applicants.

Discussion ensued on whether board review is needed for new members, and whether a distinction should be made between individuals and organizations. It was noted that a bylaw change would be needed to change the procedure.

It was decided that the current system of approval will continue, at least until the next board meeting. Perkins will be free, however, to set up an e-mail review process with the board, rather than waiting for the next meeting.

Member applicant Joseph Walton was unanimously approved.

Perkins offered a review of legislative matters that should be considered before the 2008 General Assembly.

A priority, she said, is the reduction of fees being charged for public information. She suggested the possibility of a $5,000 fees fund, which could provide $200 to $300 grants for those in need. The proposal was referred to the Executive Committee for consideration in the next budget cycle.

Perkins also suggested a repeal of the residency requirement for those making FOI requests in Virginia. Moncure cautioned that repeal could produce unintended consequences, such as commercial requests from out of state. It was noted that an earlier proposal to do away with residency went nowhere. The matter is already the subject of a court case.

Other legislative matters that Perkins suggested for consideration included the possibility of offering a citizen's right of appeal on FOI without having to go to court; the bundling of exemptions in one bill; and a narrowing of personal information exemptions.

All of these matters were referred to the Legislative Committee.
A discussion ensued on the schedule for upcoming board meetings. Board meetings are now scheduled for Roanoke in March and Virginia Beach in June. The annual conference is proposed for Fredericksburg in May. Easter asked if it would be more convenient for all board meetings to be held in Richmond.

It was decided that the board will meet in Roanoke in March and in Fredericksburg in May, but that the June meeting in Virginia Beach will be canceled.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:40 p.m.
Respectfully submitted,
Ed Jones