VCOG Board Minutes 3.24.06

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Minutes, Winter Board Meeting
Friday, March 24, 2006
Hotel Roanoke
Roanoke, VA

Present: Paul McMasters, president; Wat Hopkins, vice president; Ed Jones, secretary; Harry Hammitt, treasurer; Dorothy Abernathy; Lee Albright; Cy Dillon; John Edwards; Craig Fifer; Pam Luecke; Peter Maroney; Lawrence McConnell; John Moen; Kathy Mohn; Robert M. O’Neil; Matt Paxton; Chip Woodrum; Ginger Stanley, executive director, Virginia Press Association; Barrett Hardiman, associate director, Virginia Association of Broadcasters; Frosty Landon; Megan Rhyne.

President McMasters called the meeting to order at 3:35 p.m.

McConnell moved approval of the minutes of the fall board meeting. The motion was seconded and approved unanimously.

Discussion ensued on the Financial Report for the period July 1, 2005, through Feb. 28, 2006. Landon noted that, with a couple of late additions, dues revenues slightly exceed budget. He said the overall budget picture looks good, particularly given the cutback of VPA support during this budget year.
Sponsorships and fees for the Lexington Access 2005 conference were about $1,500 below budget, but expenses were well below budget as well. About $3,750 in sponsorship money from that conference has been shifted to the VCOG Endowment Fund. This transfer involved amounts exceeding $250 per sponsor.
Web site expenses are about $2,160 over budget. However, there will be considerable savings in the $30,000 budgeted for a gala coordinator, since that position was not filled.
On the question of Web expenses, Landon noted that the Executive Committee earlier in the day had approved his request to ask the National Freedom of Information Coalition for permission to use for Web expenses $2,700 left over from previous grants for a citizen’s guide on FOI and a membership recruitment brochure.
Landon noted that travel reimbursement already has exceeded the budget for the year, due to higher gas prices and more in-state travel than forecast.
Landon said he thought there would be a $10,000 to $12,000 budget gap at the end of the fiscal year. He attributed this in part to the costs for 10th-anniversary gala preparation.

Landon noted that approximately $175,000 has been raised so far in matching funds for the Knight Foundation’s $200,000 grant. About $75,000 of this total is cash in hand. Landon said he was optimistic that VCOG will reach its goal of $225,000, which would be enough to cover $25,000 in expenses and leave $200,000 in the endowment account.
Board participation is 100 percent in the fundraising drive. Dinner tickets to the 10th-anniversary gala will be $250.
The Gala Committee continues to brainstorm on possible speakers for the gala dinner on Nov. 16 at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. Three participants have been lined up for the Access 2006 symposium the day after the dinner. They are Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition; Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation; and Pat Gleason, a mediation coordinator in the Florida attorney general’s office.
Landon said he anticipates that the symposium will be supported in part by the SDX Foundation and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
McMasters thanked Landon for the fine job of fundraising on behalf of VCOG.

The Membership Report listed eight applications. They include the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, the Smith Mountain Eagle, the Times Co. Newspapers and five individuals.
A motion was made and seconded to accept all eight applicants. The motion passed unanimously.

McMasters reported the Executive Committee decision earlier in the day, in collaboration with the Gala Committee, to move $100,000 in unrestricted funds to the Endowment Fund, raising the current total in that fund to $175,000. This increase will qualify the fund to be treated as a managed account by VCOG’s financial advisers. The transfer of the $100,000 will still leave the unrestricted fund total above the $75,000 needed to operate VCOG in a typical year.

McMasters reported that the Search Committee for a new executive director will be chaired by Hopkins. Also serving will be Stanley, a representative from the Virginia Association of Broadcasters and O’Neil. McMasters asked for volunteers to fill the fifth slot. He said he will announce that appointment in a few days. McMasters said Landon is flexible on either a March or June 2007 retirement date.

A discussion ensued on the missions of VCOG at its founding 10 years ago, and its missions going forward. McMasters noted that key priorities include education, litigation and lobbying. The question now is whether VCOG’s emphasis should change in any of these areas.
Other key issues for the future include the organization’s financial base, membership and the Web page.
Later in the meeting, on a related topic, it was decided that a possible mini-retreat for directors will be scheduled for the morning of June 9 at the Homestead in Hot Springs. That retreat would come the day after the summer board meeting there. Topics at the retreat would include missions and strategies.
McMasters will contact Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation for a discussion of these topics. Hopkins will communicate with Charles Davis of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

In Old Business, Landon and Rhyne offered samples of the questions they receive and respond to through the VCOG Web site. When appropriate, these questions are referred to the Freedom of Information Advisory Council. Landon said the site still needs to develop credit-card capability.
More than 40 requests for "subscriptions" to the VCOG newsletter have been received on the Web site. It was reported that the Executive Committee
decided earlier in the day to offer these as electronic subscriptions and to change the notice on the Web site to be specific on that point. The printed newsletter will continue to be distributed twice a year to its current recipients. That newsletter gives VCOG visibility, particularly with legislators.

Landon offered a review of the 2006 Virginia General Assembly session. He said it been the easiest session for FOI advocates in years.
The closest call came in regard to a bill dealing with hospital authorities, but the FOI exemption language was deleted.
A positive development came with a bill that will close a loophole in "527" reporting. This pertains to major out-of-state campaign gifts that had heretofore not been required to be reported before the election.
A significant setback came in a legislative change that allows non-recorded votes in subcommittee to kill legislative proposals, without a full hearing before a committee. Woodrum said this was a real regression back to the days of "pocket vetoes" in the 1950s. Several board members expressed the hope that this issue will be revisited by the legislature.
Legislative resolutions were approved that cite James Madison’s birthday as Freedom of Information Day, and that commend VCOG on its 10th anniversary.
A concern was raised that there may be an effort at next year’s session to exempt joint legislative budget committees from FOI guidelines. Practices in other states will be researched. Strategic options on this issue were discussed.

On the legislative proposal to allow regional bodies to conduct meetings electronically, as state agencies do now, Landon recommended that VCOG continue to oppose electronic meetings at the local and regional levels, but agree to support a pilot project for one large regional body for one year.
Fifer moved approval of this position, with Mohn seconding the motion. It was approved unanimously. (John Edwards, who heads a task force on this issue for the Freedom of Information Advisory Council, was not present during this discussion.)

In another development, it was reported that the FOI case in Culpeper County has been accepted for review by the full Virginia Supreme Court. The case concerns how narrowly exemptions should be interpreted and the requirements for legal notice. Stanley said that attorneys for the Virginia Press Association have indicated their preference that the appeal remain solely supported by the newspaper companies that have been parties to the case. Therefore, it was decided that VCOG would not file an amicus brief.

In their Activities Reports, Landon and Rhyne reported that they will be attending the April meeting of the National Freedom of Information Coalition in Indianapolis.
Rhyne has been monitoring a Virginia Supreme Court task force on privacy issues relating to court records.
Landon reported on activities this month in connection with the annual Sunshine Week, sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Landon saluted Albright for a PBS television report on his FOI challenge of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

In New Business, it was unanimously voted that special recognition be given at the 10th-anniversary gala to an individual whose name will be made public at that time.

Rhyne reported that she had made three unsuccessful offers for a summer intern as part of the Richardson Fellowship program. She said she will probably consult with the Thomas Jefferson Center in Charlottesville about sharing an intern.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:26 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Edward W. Jones, secretary