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Proposed county ballot initiative would create FOI exemptions

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    NMU         MARYLAND         Freedom of Information         Aug 4, 2000    

Proposed county ballot initiative would create FOI exemptions

  • A county initiative would allow officials to restrict access to government records and meetings that have previously been considered public, but are allowed to be closed under state law.

Montgomery County officials have proposed a ballot initiative that would restrict access to government records and meetings previously considered public, The Gazette newspaper reported in late July.

The proposed ballot initiative would amend the Montgomery County Charter Section 505 so that the county’s laws conform with the narrower access provisions of the state open meeting and record laws.

Under the proposed changes, which were placed on the November ballot without a public hearing, Montgomery County would be allowed to withhold records concerning police investigations, interagency memos and attorney-client communication, which all may be kept confidential under state law. The amendment would also allow county boards to meet in private, which is allowed under the state open meetings law in some circumstances.

County Attorney Charles Thompson Jr. proposed the change to prevent confusion about what records and meetings are public and eliminate conflicts between the County Charter and state laws, according to The Gazette. Opponents of the measure argue that the state laws merely establish minimum guidelines on what records and meetings must be open and that local governments may allow even greater access that what state laws provide. Opponents are also offended that the proposed amendment was placed on the ballot without a public hearing. But Thompson said the public will have plenty of time to consider the proposal and will be the ultimate judge of whether it is needed.

“If there is such a compelling interest to restrict the public’s right to know, at the very least the council should have a public hearing so the knows what those interests are,” Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Maryland Common Cause, told The Gazette.

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