Thursday, March 12, 2009

Must the GT Advisory Committee Conform to the Law?

The Open Meetings Act Manual statesThe scope of the Act is determined in part by the “function” carried out by the public body. If, at a meeting, a public body is engaged in an “advisory function,” “legislative function,” or “quasi-legislative function,” the Act applies.” The Manual continues, “An advisory function is “the study of a matter of public concern or the making of recommendations on the matter, under a delegation of responsibility” by law, gubernatorial or other chief executive designation, or formal action by a public body.”

Dr. Jerry Weast, Superintendent, MCPS has long insisted that the public school system is a state entity. The AEI Advisory Committee is charged with advisory functions related to policy and regulations implemented by the state entity, MCPS, for compliance with state law.

Consequently, it is my belief that the AEI Advisory Committee, involved in an “advisory function” in developing policies and/or regulations consistent with applicable state law, is subject to the Open Meetings Act.

To reiterate, the General Assembly’s statement of legislative policy speaks of the public’s entitlement “to witness the phases of the deliberation, policy formation, and decision making of public bodies ....” §10-501(b)(1).

The Act requires that the following information be set out in the minutes, whether the meeting is open or closed: “each item” considered, the action taken on each item, and each recorded vote. §10-509(c)(1).35 Although the Act does not specify the level of detail in the description of an “item,” the description should be sufficient so that a member of the public who examines the minutes of an open meeting (or of a closed meeting, if the minutes are later released) can understand what the issue was. As we now know, know, the Committee votes on language related to proposed changes to policy IOA and such votes are tabulated on an enlarged photocopy taped to cabinets in the meeting room. The official minutes of the meeting fail to reflect these votes or a description of the related events.

The Compliance Board found unlawful “routine delays of several months or longer in preparing minutes.” For example, copies of March 2008 minutes have not been posted to date.

The demands for secrecy by members of the public and/or committee members who are expressly charged with reflecting the opinions of their constituencies on matters before the committee also seem to violate the act.

The onus is upon the committee to justify its penchant for secrecy, apparent violations of the Open Meetings Act, and Mr. Marty Creel has been expressly asked to do so.

On the other hand, there may be arguments that justify the Committee’s immunity to the Open Meetings Act. In which case the public must be informed of the reasons there for.

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