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Two Bills Meant to Increase Compliance with Open Meetings Act Move Forward in Annapolis

The Open Meetings Compliance Board has received four complaints about the Carroll County commissioners since 2010 and two complaints about the Carroll County Utilities Advisory Council in 2012.

Two bills which would give the Open Meetings Act more bite have passed the Government Operations Subcommittee, according to MarylandReporter.com.

Several weeks ago members of the Open Meetings Compliance Board testified in Annapolis that some entities found to be in violation of the Act disregard the violation because there are no real consequences. If the proposed bills pass, violators face penalties that include making the violation public as well as potential fines.

Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and the sponsor of HB 331, said the legislation may force government entities to take the Act more seriously. It would require government bodies to publicly announce that they violated the Open Meetings Act whenever the Board ruled against them, according to MarylandReporter.com.

HB 331 would also allow the board to introduce testimony in court if an agency was sued for having closed meetings. Under current law, the maximum fine a judge can impose is $100, but if the bill passes, the penalties would increase to a $1,000 minimum and a $10,000 maximum.

According to the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board's website, there were four complaints filed against the Carroll County board of Commissioners between 2010 and 2012.

The Open Meetings Act Compliance Board found the commissioners to have violated the Act in two of those complaints - one for charging admission to the commissioner-sponsored PlanMaryland Forum and the other for failing to properly announce closed meetings.

In a statement released following one of the Compliance Board findings, Commissioner Doug Howard said, "The simple fact is that this Board of Commissioners respects and practices open government. We set policy as a result of open debate, public votes and public disclosure."

Additionally, in 2012 there were two complaints filed against the Carroll County Utilities Advisory Council for failing to post meeting minutes in a timely manner and for failing to make all of its Council members aware of the violation. 

Read the full responses to these complaints on the Compliance Board's website

Del. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican, expressed reservations about the penalty increases at Thursday’s subcommittee meeting saying taxpayers would ultimately pay the fines. According to MarylandReporter.com, Ready said he was comforted by the addition of an amendment requiring judges to consider a violator's ability to pay when calculating fines.

The two bills, HB 139 and HB 331, will now be considered by the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Related Articles:

  • Report: Commissioners Did Not Violate Open Meetings Act
  • Commissioners Violated Open Meetings Act
  • Highly Anticipated Carroll Commissioners' PlanMaryland Forum Set (Update)

 

Buck Harmon February 25, 2013 at 01:27 PM
Perhaps the individual's that participate in the violation should be fined so that the public wouldn't have to pay for their intentional law breaking..
craig o'donnell February 25, 2013 at 03:10 PM
<<Read the full responses to these complaints on the Compliance Board's website. >> Not quite accurate. The OMCB's findings, or Opinions, are on the website. The original complaint and the public body's response are not, but can be obtained by emailing them atopengov@oag.state.md.us. An Open Meetings Complaint consists of three parts: complaint, response, opinion. 1. Someone submits a written complaint. Called the "complaint." 2. The Compliance Board sends it to the alleged violator, which has 30 days to reply. Typically, the public body has their attorney do this. 3. The Compliance board receives the "response" and so does the person who initiated the complaint. 4. If there are no other issues which are raised by the "response," then the Compliance Board issues its "Opinion." Sometimes the "response" includes new information, or a misunderstanding of the original complaint, and if this occurs the person(s) who filed the complaint can write a "rebuttal" to clarify the issues. That's how it works. Everything should be online, but it isn't.
craig o'donnell February 25, 2013 at 03:11 PM
... that should be "at the email address" opengov.oag.state.md.us.
Kym Byrnes February 25, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Thanks @craig o'donnell. Sorry I wasn't clear, I meant the full responses written by the Compliance Board (i.e. findings/opinions) -- the responses to the complaints. Those are available on the website at the link provided as stated in the article.
JoeEldersburg February 25, 2013 at 09:48 PM
It's ironic that while bills like these move forward to put teeth in the meaning of "Open Government", our Commissioners are privately championing bills put forth by our delegation (namely Sen. Joe Getty) to increase secrecy in government. Our Commissioners continue to violate the spirit and the tenor of the existing laws with impunity, receiving "slaps on the wrist" for now several violations. Yet they continue to claim publicly that they believe in open government, while they work the state to change the law, because the violations look bad. I have to agree with Buck...they lie!Sen. Getty will likely fail to convince fellow Senators of the need for more secrecy in government, just like he fails at nearly everything else he supports. Too bad more people aren't paying attention to the continued hypocrisy of this Board of Commissioners.

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