Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority chairman mum about closed Monday meeting

August 19, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The chairman of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority has declined to explain why he believes a closed-door session scheduled for next week about the Baltimore and Ohio roundhouse and shops in Martinsburg is exempt from the state's open meetings law.

Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III said Friday it would be inappropriate to comment about the advice he requested and received from the West Virginia Ethics Commission concerning the meeting until he receives additional clarification from the panel.

The ethics commission is charged with issuing advisory opinions on the Open Governmental Meetings Act.

While closed to the public and media, the Roundhouse Authority meeting is scheduled to be held Monday night, according to county Councilwoman Elaine Mauck who said she and other council members were invited to attend.

Martin has previously defended the decision to invite state, federal and local leaders to the private session, saying it was needed to allow those attending the meeting to be able to talk in frank terms about efforts to restore and redevelop the historic railroad site.

In August 2008, the ethics commission concluded that work sessions, even where no official action is to be taken, are still considered meetings and subject to the state's open meetings law.

"Work sessions where a quorum of a governing body is present and matters requiring official action by the governing body are discussed, are meetings subject to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act," the commission told the West Virginia Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Board in an advisory opinion.

When considered an open meeting, notice of the session's time and place and agenda must be given in the same manner as any other regular or special meeting, the commission said in the opinion.

"I need these people to feel free to talk freely about what they can and can't do — this project is at a critical point," Martin said in an earlier interview.

Martin has said he didn't like holding a closed session, but also didn't want officials to refrain from expressing opinions about the project because they could end up in the next day's headlines.

Mauck, however, has objected to the private session being held and pushed for a public hearing so that all people interested in the roundhouse property could attend, not just those who were invited.

Mauck said Thursday that the private session is scheduled to be held at the Martin and Seibert law offices at 7 p.m. Monday.

Council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield announced at a regular council meeting Thursday that an evening town hall meeting has been scheduled at the Tuscarora Ruritan Club on Sept. 1 at which a presentation on the roundhouse property would be made.

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