STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA
PRELIMINARY PERFORMANCE REVIEW OF THE
The Women's Commission Is Moving
in the Direction of Developing a Unique
and More Active Role in Advocating
Changes to Improve the Status of Women
in West Virginia
The West Virginia Women's Commission
Needs to Improve Its Compliance with the Open
In January 1999, the Legislative Auditor issued a preliminary performance
review of the Women's Commission, an agency created in 1977 to advocate
and educate on issues relating to women. The Women's Commission was found
to be ineffective in achieving significant change due to: 1) relying primarily
on dissemination of information; 2) its lack of an effective legislative
initiative; and 3) its duplication of state programs developed since 1977.
The Legislative Auditor concluded that "... If the Legislature chooses
not to terminate the Women's Commission, then the Legislature should consider
giving the Women's Commission a three year continuance to give it the opportunity
to improve its effectiveness and develop a unique (non-duplicative) and
more active role in advocating for changes which it believes would improve
the status of women in West Virginia." The use of "unique" and "non-duplicative"
is to encourage the Commission to direct its limited resources to issues
or programs that have limited support or that cannot be developed without
the Commission's assistance, instead of areas that have widespread support
Women's Commission Responds to the 1999 Report
This current review, two and a half years through the continuance, finds
that the Women's Commission has taken seriously the recommendations
of the 1999 Legislative Auditor's report and is moving toward developing
a unique and more active role in advocating changes. The Commission
Chair encouraged members by stating, "We have our work cut out for us...Now
we have got to show the legislature what a group of strong, hard-working
women can do. And we will." The day after the report was presented,
the Executive Director resigned. In the year and a half following the review,
the Commission hired a new director, secretary and program manager. A review
of the Commission's meeting minutes reflects the following four attempts
by the Commission to implement the Legislative Auditor's recommendations:
Throughout the year, the Women's Commission presents various activities.
In 2000, the Women's Commission sponsored or co-sponsored seven events,
four of which were new. A previously co-sponsored event, "Take Our Daughters
to Work Day" was eliminated. The Director spoke at meetings of business
and professional groups, church groups, and farm women's clubs. The Director
also contacted all state representatives and senators as part of a national
initiative to identify qualified women candidates for appointment to federal
agencies and departments.
The Legislative Auditor examined the Women's Commission new activities
during 2000 to assess how many women were actually involved in these events,
and whether the new events were reflective of a non-duplicative and more
active role in advocating changes in the status of women.
The new Women's Commission events were:
Use of Technology Expands Audience
The use of the DHHR educational network for the science teleconference
significantly expanded the Women's Commission's audience. Female students
were able to attend at their own schools, and the format encouraged personal
interaction with telephone calls being accepted "live." With over a thousand
people present, this is an example of an event where technology was used
to reach a statewide audience.
The Commission should continue to sponsor events with multiple geographical
participation, and consider the use of technology to bring traditional
events to multiple locations. Traditional activities are held at one place,
and depend upon participants going to the location. In addition, fees charged
for the Women's Day at the Legislature and the Annual Town Meeting may
also limit attendance.
Policy Positions And Greater Media
Attention Are Needed
The West Virginia Women's Commission does not have direct press contact
and has not utilized the media to broadly inform the community about its
concerns for women. The Commission does issue press releases through the
Department of Health and Human Resources. However, these releases are used
only to provide notice of upcoming events. The Commission relies on internal
means to publicize itself. It uses two mailing lists which total approximately
1,000 names, and an e-mail list with 500 names. The Director and Commissioners
also utilize speaking engagements. The reliance on mailing, e-mail lists
and speaking to established groups has the effect of limiting its audience.
One of the aspects of advocacy is to bring issues to the public, and
to keep these issues in the spotlight of public awareness. Several Commissions
in other states use press releases to highlight issues, direct attention
to the effects of new legislation on women's lives, and publicize national
reports about the status of women. In Vermont, the Governor's Commission
for Women initiated nine issue-oriented press releases during 1999-2000,
and authored four essays which were carried in the "Op Ed" sections of
newspapers. The Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women
created four issue-related press releases in 2000, as did the Michigan
Women's Commission. By contrast, West Virginia released no issue-oriented
press releases in the same time period. A broader use of the media will
not only focus attention to areas of concern by the Women's Commission,
but also inform a larger audience of women about these concerns.
The West Virginia Women's Commission maintains a website with the addresshttp.//www.wvdhhr.org/women/.
The website presently has a copy of the Commission newsletter, dates and
information for upcoming events, and the text of selected Commission publications.
It could be expanded to include issue-related press releases, and opinion
pieces. It could also be used to post comprehensive referral information
on resources for women. Publicity about the website address might enable
more women to learn about the Commission.
In addition, effective commissions such as the Vermont Governor's Commission
on Women have policy positions on issues affecting women. Vermont has over
50 policy positions that are used to guide the commission. The State of
North Carolina lists 38 public policy positions. By contrast the West Virginia
Women's Commission has no public policy positions that are
clearly defined as such, to guide its activities.
The Women's Commission has taken seriously the recommendations of the
Legislative Auditor's 1999 report. A review of the Commission's minutes
indicates that there is a conscious effort to reduce unnecessary duplication
in sponsoring events. One traditional event is no longer co-sponsored by
the Commission because it recognized that the Commission's resources were
not critical to the event's success, and resources could be better used
elsewhere. By devoting resources to events or issues that need
it's assistance, the Commission places itself in a unique and leading role
in advocating women's causes.
The Science Teleconference was successful in reaching a statewide audience
to encourage young women to pursue careers in the field of science. The
involvement of the Women's Commission was important to its success. The
Student Essay Competition draws attention to women in history and it appears
to be a growing event. The Commission should continue to seek ways to be
involved with events that reach relatively large audiences, and make use
of technology when possible to expand some of its traditional activities,
such as the annual town meetings.
In addition to the new events, the Executive Director developed a closer
connection with the National Association of Commissions for Women (NACW).
The director attended the national conference in 2000 and subsequently
accepted an invitation to become a board member for Region III. The Women's
Commission is also attempting to address its past lack of legislative initiative
by drafting legislation. However, public policy positions which would clarify
the Commission's direction and provide a focus for all legislative activity
would be helpful. The Commission's website could be enhanced to provide
additional information to women, and increasing the awareness of the website
should be pursued. Furthermore, the Commission has not utilized the media
effectively to publicize concerns, issues or legislative recommendations
which would broadly inform the public and contribute to developing a more
active role in advocating for change.
The Women's Commission should continue to avoid unnecessary duplication
by supporting projects that need the Commission's assistance. The Women's
Commission should also continue the development of its legislative initiative.
The Women's Commission should develop public policy positions to
serve as a basis for all of its activities.
The Women's Commission needs to continue increased utilization of
new technology to maximize its impact, extend its limited resources, and
involve a greater number of women in its activities.
The Women's Commission needs to utilize the media more effectively to broadly inform the community about issues impacting women, and to advocate for change. The Commission's website should be enhanced to include more information, and increasing the awareness of the website should be pursued.
Issue 2: The West Virginia Women's Commission Needs to Improve Its Compliance with the Open Meetings Law.
The West Virginia Women's Commission is charged with establishing a regular meeting schedule, and shall meet no less than four times per year. The Chairperson, or Executive Director shall notify the public and the news media of a regular meeting by filing a notice of the meeting with the Secretary of State for publication in the state register according to procedural rule §98 CSR-1-3. All meetings are open to the public, except as provided in WVC §6-9A-4. In 2000, the Women's Commission held six meetings.
Of the six meetings held in 2000, the Women's Commission noticed only two meetings with the Secretary of State. This is a violation not only of Title 98, the West Virginia Women's Commission Procedural Rule, but also of the Open Governmental Proceedings Act. West Virginia Code §6-9A-1, as amended, declares the purpose and intent of Article 9A. It states in part "...it is, therefore, in the best interests of the people of this state for the proceedings of all public agencies to be conducted openly....".
The two meetings which were noticed were the first and third quarter
meetings held in February and June 2000. The final Commission meeting,
held in November, was held via conference telephone in order to accommodate
the Commissioners who could not travel. The Director's office in Charleston
was equipped with a speaker telephone for visitors. Analysis of attendance
at noticed meetings as opposed to non-noticed meetings does not suggest
that there was any effect on attendance. During the year six guests attended
Women's Commission meetings. Of the noticed meetings, one had no guests,
and the other had three guests. Of the four non-noticed meetings, one had
one guest, one had two guests, and two had no guests (See Table 1).
Effect of Secretary of State Notices on Women's Commission Guest Attendance
|Meetings||Noticed||Number of Guests|
|1Q00 Meeting (February 14, 2000)||Yes||0|
|2Q00 Business Meeting (April 15, 2000)||No||1|
|3Q00 Business Meeting (June 16, 2000)||Yes||3|
|Womens Commission Meeting (August 25, 2000)||No||2|
|Commission Planning Retreat (August 26, 2000)||No||0|
|4Q00 Meeting - Conference Call (November 8, 2000)||No||0|
Since two of the six meetings were properly noticed and publicized by the Secretary of State, it is clear that the Women's Commission understands the mechanism for providing notice of its meetings. While the effect of inconsistent noticing did not appear to be significant, it is a violation of the procedural rule. Potentially, attendance could be adversely impacted by not providing notice of meetings.
The West Virginia Women's Commission should improve its efforts to comply with the Open Meetings Governmental Proceedings Act.