Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Local governments hide public records, face few consequences

Miranda S. Spivack, The Center for Investigative Reporting 

...During the legal fight, they also began learning about Maryland’s open records law. Used frequently by journalists and business interests, the state’s public records law allowed them to seek government documents — memos, officials’ calendars and other items — that might offer clues to how the deal was done or hints about who had been speaking with whom, when the plans were hatched and why.
But when residents asked for those documents, they hit a wall: Montgomery County government officials said they could not find many emails, letters and calendars related to their search.
This seemed preposterous, so the residents took the only route available to them — they went to court. A skeptical county judge urged the government to look anew for missing documents. Officials soon managed to find most of what the residents had sought.
The details weren’t pretty.
Documents showed that County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat less than a year from his next election, had been pushing behind closed doors for the private soccer club to take over the site and attempting to pressure a reluctant school board, even though in theory he had no power over school system decisions.
The Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board also found that the school board had violated the state’s open meetings law by discussing the lease deal in closed session....

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