Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Editorial: Not-so-open meetings

By: Daily Record Staff  February 27, 2014
With all the other problems facing the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, carping about the way its board went about firing the primary contractor over the weekend would be petty indeed.
Consider this, instead, an appreciation, a tribute to the board’s ingenuity and a 10-point primer for any public entity that needs to (arguably) comply with the Open Meetings Act without actually meeting in the open.
1. Meet on a Sunday night. Never mind that you’re going to make a change everybody has been expecting for two weeks. Never mind that you have no intention of announcing your decision until Monday afternoon. Timing is everything, and there’s no time like a Sunday night for a state panel to meet.
2. Better still, meet by phone on a Sunday night. It’s not like any protesters are going to surround your cell-phone tower and demand to be let in.
3. “Regrets” — you’ll have a few. It’s always tricky to get people together at the last minute, even for a phone call. Take a lesson from the MHBE board: If you have nine members, and five of them are on the call, you’re good to go...

6. Know what you can and can’t fudge. When it comes to exemptions from the Open Meetings Act, “consulting with counsel” is the gold standard, the immunity idol that makes you a Survivor. But the lawyer has to be there, and no, you can’t save a few bucks by substituting a potted plant or that blow-up barrister you bought online so you could drive in the carpool lane...

8. Talk all you want. Again, technically, you’re expected to reopen the meeting at some point — before you vote, for example. But as a practical matter, if you’ve followed lessons 1 through 7 above, this is a non-issue. Nobody else is sitting there on hold on your Sunday night call, waiting to be allowed back into the conversation.
9. If something goes wrong, blame the lawyers. Say the Open Meetings Act is too tricky for you to understand. Let this be your mantra: “We relied on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General.”
10. When you speak of the closed-door session — and you will — stress how important transparency is to you.
After all, with all the other problems you’re facing, you can’t have people thinking you have something to hide.


  1. They must have learned this from the Montgomery County Council. Citizens have seen the council actually leave the dais during a Council meeting, whisper in the corner, and come back with a new plan and vote on it.

  2. My favorite is when a major decision is made at 4:00 PM on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day. Duncan did this when he tried to get the Rockville Memorial Library named after himself. It still failed.


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