State board rules on open meetings

November 16, 2000

State board rules on open meetings

By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer

An Aug. 15 closed-door meeting between the Washington County Board of Education and a developer proposing a Wal-Mart Supercenter near Funkstown did not violate the state Open Meetings Act, the Open Meetings Compliance Board has determined.


The woman who submitted the complaint said Thursday she is not discouraged because she believes parts of the ruling validate her concerns.

In a Sept. 1 letter to the compliance board, Leslie LeBlanc, secretary of the Funkstown Elementary School Citizens Advisory Committee, claimed a meeting to discuss the height of a wall between the school and the proposed store should have been open to the public.

The state compliance board found that the meeting did not violate the Open Meetings Act because the School Board was carrying out an executive function, not a legislative function, during the meeting. The Open Meetings Act does not apply when a school board meets to carry out an executive function.


LeBlanc said the last part of the compliance board's opinion implies the School Board shouldn't have closed the meeting to the public.

That section of the compliance board opinion states: "In its response, and with the benefit of hindsight, the County (school) Board observed that, 'for public relations purposes and to avoid unfounded rumors or conjecture ... it could have met with (the developer's representative) in a public session.' This realization is both astute and important to all public bodies. Except in the rare circumstance that some other law mandates confidentiality, the fact that a meeting legally may be closed does not mean it must be closed.

"Before closing a meeting under the executive function exclusion or other basis in the Act, a public body should think about the public perception and other implications of closing and whether a closed session is really necessary for the effective conduct of public business," the opinion said.

LeBlanc said that statement tells her that "While what (the School Board) did was not illegal they are being advised that what they did was not a good idea."

"The advice was, 'You blew it,'" LeBlanc said.

School Board President Paul W. Bailey said that statement from the compliance board is "just a caution" and does not imply any wrongdoing.

He refused to respond to LeBlanc's comments.

Bailey said the compliance board opinion vindicates the actions of the School Board.

Bailey said in hindsight, perhaps the School Board should have discussed what happened during the Aug. 15 closed meeting at that night's open school board meeting.

During that closed meeting the School Board decided to endorse a plan to install a 6-foot wall between the store and Funkstown Elementary School.

Bailey said he believes the School Board was right to close the Aug. 15 meeting with the developer.

The compliance board opinion, issued Nov. 8, contained a footnote that recommended the School Board review the procedural requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

LeBlanc said because of that footnote she will investigate whether the School Board didn't follow proper procedure.

Bailey said the recommendation is standard for compliance board opinions, and is to serve as a "reminder" for the School Board.

The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter that prompted the Aug. 15 meeting is still under review. The Hagerstown Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to discuss the proposal Nov. 29.

The decisions of the state compliance board, which reviews complaints about Maryland's Open Meetings Act, are advisory and as such are not binding.

The Herald-Mail Articles