Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Board of Education Violates Open Meetings Act - Again

I've got to hand it to the Board of Education.  Today's mail delivered a decision by the State of Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board.

The decision?  The Montgomery County Board of Education violated the Maryland State Open Meetings Act "in a number of ways."

Again?

Yes.

This time the Board failed to follow the state Sunshine laws when meeting in closed session to lease the Brickyard Middle School site to the County, who in turn is planning on leasing the site for soccer fields.

The general rule is that if a public body is meeting and the subject matter is covered by the Open Meetings Act, the body must meet in open session. While the Act sets out exceptions to this general rule, the exceptions themselves are to be “strictly construed in favor of open meetings of public bodies.” §10-508(c).

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Open Meetings Act is outlined in a manual published by our esteemed Attorney General, Douglas Gansler.

Apparently, despite running a world class school system and paying top dollar for legal opinions, the Montgomery County Board of Education keeps on violating the Act. 

Our taxpayer dollars paid for legal counsel that apparently can't read.  The decision states:
In claiming the exception in its closing resolution, the County Board replaced the word "acquisition" with the word "use."  That act was doubly problematic.  First, the change was incorrect under the plain language of the statute;  the exception applies to a public body's acquision of real property, not to diverstment of an interest. [citations omitted]  Second the County Board's citation to that exception created the impression that the County Board members who voted to close the session on the basis of the resolution would in fact be discussing the acquisition of real property.
An honest mistake or a deliberate misrepresentation?  The Compliance Board obviously didn't agree with Christopher Barclay and the Board.

Also from the decision:
We conclude that the County Board violated the Open Meetings Act when it convened a closed session on the basis of a resolution that did not meet three requirements [of the state law] when it discussed matters exceeding the scope of the exception it claimed, and when it did not include meaningful information about the session in the minutes of its subsequent open meeting.  The administrative exclusion, even had the County Board closed the meeting for that purpose to discuss the Brickyard site, did not apply.
You can read the Compliance Board's decision here.

Open Meetings Compliance Board

Looks like reteach/relearn is just for the elementary school set.

Note to Dr. Starr:  Read the State Open Meetings Act manual before you take advice from the Board of Education or Montgomery County Public School staff.  And better yet - find a lawyer who will give you better legal advice at a more reasonable price.  The taxpayers don't seem to be getting a good return on their tax dollars.

3 comments:

  1. What about the members of the Board of Education who are lawyers? Shirley Brandman, Phil Kaufman, and Laura Berthiame. Did they miss the plain language doctrine in their education?

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  2. Other than having the satisfaction of knowing this, what practical implications does this finding have? Thanks.

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  3. As far as the members of the BOE who are lawyers - you need to ask them - the next BOE meeting during public comments might be a good time.

    As far as the practical implications, read the statute and find out! This is but one step in the administrative process of review. Stay tuned.

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