Secret meeting to ban boardwalk vendors violated meetings law
MARYLAND–Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board in late December chastised a city council for meeting in secret to discuss city business.
The board declared that the Ocean City Council violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when, after conferring secretly several times between August 1994 and May 1995, it passed an ordinance banning vendors from the city’s boardwalk.
When Sean O’Sullivan, a reporter with the Salisbury Daily Times, complained about the city council’s secret discussions, the city council’s president responded that the meetings had concerned a legal matter and were exempted from the act.
Mr. O’Sullivan and Joe Harris, managing editor of the Maryland Times-Press, filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Board in May 1995. The challenge was joined by the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association.
The Board, a three-member advisory body appointed by the governor, rejected the city council’s assertion that the closed meetings had been limited to discussions of purely legal matters and were therefore exempt under the attorney-client privilege.
The Open Meetings Compliance Board cited the council president’s admission that at one such meeting a discussion about the need for an ordinance took place. The board ruled that “a decision by the Council that the City Attorney was to draft an ordinance amounted to a preliminary decision that the perceived problem required a legislative response.” (Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Bd. Op. 95-11; Media Counsel: Alice Neff Lucan, Washington, D.C.)