Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Mind Boggles: Commissioners' Meeting via Radio Talk Show

This is GREAT stuff.
I have expanded a little on a comment I posted in response to the article. As an aside, I want to make it clear the Compliance Board does not investigate. Facts supporting any allegations have to be sent in to the. They determine if the law was broken and they suggest how to avoid making the same mistake.
... County Attorney John Mathias disagreed with the notion that the commissioners' participation in the show constituted a meeting under Maryland law. “It's hard to see how three commissioners appearing on a radio show would violate the Open Meetings Act,” he said, “It seems bizarre that this effort to have an open, transparent communication with the public at large would violate open meeting law.” ...
In my experience, state and county attorneys are the first ones to come out with fanciful interpretations of the Open Meetings Act's plain language. The first test in the law is whether a quorum is present and capable of interacting (essentially) in real time.
The second is if the discussion involves public business. (No action is necessary to turn it into a meeting, nor even the intent to hold a meeting, only discussion of public business).
And once a quorum is present, there is nothing to stop them from making a decision (formal motion and vote not required). A talk-radio vote would be amusing to have happen.
Furthermore, if they are talking about policy matters, and trying to "sell" the public on a policy, that's public business. Quorum + public business = Meeting
If they are talking about legislation that has been proposed, that's public business. Quorum + public business = Meeting
If they are talking about zoning matters, that's public business. Quorum + public business = Meeting
The only exception is for "social gatherings," and clearly a radio talk show is NOT a social occasion. Awards banquets and such are social occasions. And even there, the second a quorum begins talking public business at the dinner table, an illegal secret meeting has begun.
Social gatherings can also include political party meetings, by the way.
I'm going to see if I can find some audio of the radio show and see how far they put their feet in it this time.
I leave it to the interested citizen to find the Open Meetings Compliance Board rulings on these subjects. I can guarantee you they've dealt with several flavors of "but it was a Social Event!" excuse. And the "We didn't vote on anything!" excuse.
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