November board meeting minutes

Board Meeting, Nov. 1, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat

Present: Cory Lancaster, Mike Connelly, Jim Baltzelle, Mc Nelly Torres, Bob Gabordi, David Carlson, Dean Ridings, Gil Thelen

On the phone: Mark Russell, Rick Hirsch, Manny Garcia, Tony Fins, Mike Wilson, Chris Porter, Dennis Durkee, Frank Denton

Also present: Sam Morley, Sandy D’Alemberte, Patsy Palmer

Meeting called to order by President Lancaster at 1:05 p.m.

Lobby Update: Sam Morley, attorney for the Florida Press Association, came to the meeting with attorney Sandy D’Alemberte, registered lobbyist for FPA and FSNE, along with D’Alemberte’s wife and law partner, Patsy Palmer, to give a preview of the upcoming legislative session. Morley said he will monitor proposed exemptions to the public records law and work with D’Alemberte this coming session.

D’Alemberte said legislators are supposed to make findings about the need for exemptions, under the state constitutional amendment on open government, but they rarely do. He has a draft rule that would require actual proof before an exemption could be approved, and hopes to visit legislative staff soon to push for it. The rule wouldn’t stop exemptions, but it might slow down their approval, he said. To better communicate this year, Morley suggested a structured process to alert FSNE and FPA about proposed exemptions. He said he and D’Alemberte rely on Barbara Petersen with the First Amendment Foundation to let them know about proposed exemptions.

Thelen said they would resurrect their weekly conference calls on Fridays to communicate better about pending exemptions. He suggested he and Lancaster have a conference call with Petersen to figure out how to relay top priorities during the coming session. This will allow FSNE to alert its member for news coverage and editorials. Lancaster added that Connelly, who also serves on the First Amendment Foundation board, will play a greater role this year in monitoring proposed exemptions for FSNE.

Morley said the biggest issue for the coming session will be requirements for public notice in print and online. Two bills would stop requirements for print notices for foreclosures and government zoning requests. Another issue is strategic lawsuits against public participation, so called slap suits, to try to silence public discourse, such as a customer complaining against a product.

Carlson suggested Thelen post a blog on the FSNE website after the Friday conference calls to keep members informed, and Thelen agreed.

Minutes: Motion to approve the minutes, approved.

Financial report: Russell discussed the latest financial report, ending 9/30/11, and said the group has solid finances with $104,000 cash in hand. Thelen said FSNE recently has written off $10,000 in bad debt. These are unpaid dues that go back a few years and the group had to write them off.

Announce new officers, board member: Lancaster announced Russell would move up to vice president to fill the vacancy from Patty Cox resigning from the board in September. Connelly will become secretary/treasurer. (A subsequent vote was held on the new officers a few days after the board meeting and the two officers were approved by the board.) Lancaster announced Mike Wilson, managing editor for enterprise at the St. Petersburg Times, will replace Cox on the board.

Sunshine Week planning: Durkee said the ideas for Sunshine Week are to create a short DVD to teach students about the Sunshine Law and distribute it to classrooms, grades 8-12. Petersen also wants to send out the list of her Sunshine Brigade to newspapers in their markets to write stories about these Sunshine heroes. A discussion ensued about what else newspapers might do to raise awareness about Sunshine issues, and Connelly suggested a project on the competing issues of privacy and open government for a possible project to engage people. Garcia suggested naming the worst government agency in Florida to raise awareness about those agencies that shut out the public.

State Decoded: Hirsch provided an update on the Florida Statutes project. The programmer has finished installing the API and the statutes are searchable, but some of the results are garbled. The programmer needs to clean up the data and Hirsch expects it will be done by early next year for the start of the legislative session. Hirsch proposes calling it, the FSNE/FAF Statutes in the Sunshine project.

Contest planning: Porter said he has talked to the contest website, Better Newspaper Contest, about using the site again for the 2012 contest. He will soon schedule a conference call with the contest committee members, including Fins, Baltzelle, Torres, Wilson and others. Porter said he will need a few volunteers for the Spanish language category, and several members offered suggestions.

Update, Lynn University request to host a Presidential Debate: Fins said the Commission on Presidential Debates has chosen Lynn University to host the third and final debate on Oct. 22, 2012. FSNE supported its bid and agreed to host its fall meeting in 2012 on campus, if Lynn was selected. Fins and other board members said FSNE’s involvement in the debate could certainly elevate the group’s profile.

Thelen said the debate will be a signature event for Russell’s presidency. FSNE should try to maximize its opportunities and begin planning with Lynn. Russell agreed. He and Fins will work with Lynn in coming months on ideas. Russell also suggested FSNE host a training for all the journalists that will come for the debate. Baltzelle suggested sending a letter of congratulations from the FSNE president, and Lancaster agreed.

Writers’ Workshop update: Fins said the program for the event has been finalized and he will send it to board members within a few days. The event begins Thursday, Feb. 16, with FSNE hosting training sessions on Saturday with various journalists. Next Fins will be working to spread the word about the training to the FSNE membership. The University of Central Florida also has requested FSNE sign a memorandum of understanding. Lancaster emailed this memorandum to board members and, except for item 6, under “Obligations of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors,” Lancaster and Thelen said the agreement looked fine.

Convention planning/awards luncheon: Ridings gave a brief overview of the programming and accommodations for the multi-state convention July 5-7, 2012, in Destin. Invitations have been sent to the presidential candidates and President Obama, as well as Gov. Rick Scott. Baltzelle asked if FSNE will have a presence on the Convene2012.com website, and Ridings said FSNE can brand its programs.

A discussion ensued about awarding the top tier FSNE awards at the convention, such as the Gold Medals and the Paul Hansell award, and hosting a less-expensive awards ceremony in Central Florida in early June. But Gabordi objected and said media in the Panhandle usually are the ones who must travel to Central or South Florida for conventions, and he’d like to see all the media travel to the Panhandle for a convention. Baltzelle made a motion to hold the full awards luncheon in Destin at the convention and, with a quorum present, the board approved.

Update on funding request from Florida Voices: Lancaster said a few concerns were raised about the “Freedom of Information: Days on the List” project proposed by Rosemary Goudreau. The board tentatively agreed to provide $3,000 for the project during its September conference call, with the direction that Lancaster see if the board had supported such projects before. Lancaster said she was told that a few reporters said they would not want to post their pending public records requests on a website because it could tip off competing media. Several board members agreed with the concerns. Board members asked Lancaster to let Goudreau know that she can request funding for another project.

Intern update: Thelen said FSNE intern Lydia Harvey has cut back her hours to two hours a week posting content on the FSNE website and her monthly stipend has been reduced from $200 to $100 a month. Harvey is a full-time intern for the St. Petersburg Times.

Next board meeting by conference call on Wed., Jan. 11, at 10 a.m.

Meeting adjourned, 3:45 p.m.

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