Let’s re­view: Md. Open Meet­ings Act

Record Observer - - Opinion -

A state board re­cently found the Queen Anne’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Tal­bot County Coun­cil vi­o­lated Maryland’s open meet­ings law.

Of the two, the vi­o­la­tions com­mit­ted by the Queen Anne’s County school board were more egre­gious, with the school board fail­ing to com­ply with some of the most ba­sic as­pects of the Maryland Open Meet­ings Act.

In both cases, the vi­o­la­tions oc­curred in con­nec­tion with con­tro­ver­sial top­ics: the re­moval of the “Tal­bot Boys” statue and the de­ci­sion not to re­new the con­tract of Queen Anne’s County School Su­per­in­ten­dent Carol Wil­liamson.

The Open Meet­ings Com­pli­ance Board con­sid­ers com­plaints al­leg­ing vi­o­la­tions of the open meet­ings law and is­sues ad­vi­sory opin­ions and ad­vice.

The board is­sued an opin­ion in re­sponse to com­plaints filed by The Bay Times, David Brown and Bryan Holocker, find­ing the Queen Anne’s school board in vi­o­la­tion for meet­ings held Jan. 20, Feb. 9 and Feb. 10.

The com­plaints al­leged the school board failed to give proper no­tice for the Feb. 9 meet­ing, did not close the meet­ing in a pub­lic vote, did not pro­vide the re­quired in­for­ma­tion be­fore clos­ing the meet­ing, did not pro­vide re­quired in­for­ma­tion about three closed sea­sons in the min­utes of the next open meet­ing and failed to iden­tify those who at­tended the closed ses­sions.

In each in­stance, the com­pli­ance board found the school board vi­o­lated the Open Meet­ings Act.

The Feb. 9 meet­ing was a closed ses­sion at which a ma­jor­ity of the school board voted not to re­new Carol Wil­liamson’s con­tract as school su­per­in­ten­dent.

The Bay Times specif­i­cally ques­tioned how the closings were han­dled dur­ing the Jan. 20 and Feb. 9 meet­ings.

The com­pli­ance board noted, as it has in past opin­ions, that ev­ery meet­ing must start off in open ses­sion.

The pub­lic body must then pub­licly vote to go into closed ses­sion. The pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer must pre­pare a writ­ten state­ment out­lin­ing the ba­sis for clos­ing the meet­ing, in­clud­ing the statu­tory au­thor­ity, the top­ics to be dis­cussed and the rea­son for clos­ing.

In pre­vi­ous opin­ions, the com­pli­ance board also has re­peat­edly ex­plained that the top­ics to be dis­cussed can­not sim­ply re­peat the statu­tory au­thor­ity for clos­ing. In other words, if a board is clos­ing to dis­cuss per­son­nel mat­ters, the topic can­not be “per­son­nel mat­ters,” but should pro­vide ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion, such as “meet­ing to dis­cuss re­newal of su­per­in­ten­dent’s con­tract.” The Tal­bot County Coun­cil’s vi­o­la­tion was a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. The county had ar­gued that de­cid­ing whether to re­move the “Tal­bot Boys” statue was an ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tion not cov­ered by the Open Meet­ings Act. The board dis­agreed. Since there was no ex­ist­ing pol­icy or law to ad­min­is­ter, the county coun­cil should have de­cided the re­moval of the “Tal­bot Boys” in pub­lic ses­sion, the board said.

Open meet­ings are im­por­tant. They in­crease the pub­lic’s faith in govern­ment, en­sure ac­count­abil­ity and en­hance the pub­lic’s abil­ity to par­tic­i­pate ef­fec­tively in our democ­racy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.