(June 26, 2020) Ocean City resident and former councilman Vince Gisriel, whose Open Meetings Act complaint against the mayor and City Council was backed up by the state just three weeks ago, denounced the council Tuesday for going behind closed doors again to discuss the state’s findings.
In a June 3 opinion responding to a complaint filed by Gisriel and others, the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the council violated the open meetings requirement by meeting in private for 18 months to discuss the renewal of the Pier Amusements franchise.
The board went on to say the facts of this case suggested the council had broader problems with following the act’s requirements.
“… We find that the council violated the act over a period of time by secretly conducting public business that the act required it to discuss publicly and by failing to disclose to the public either the fact of the discussions or the creation of a negotiating committee until after the council had decided the terms of the franchise and ordinances. The council’s violations were not trivial,” the compliance board said in the 11-page opinion.
The council’s decision to discuss the board’s opinion in private led Gisriel to object, adding, “I find it ironic that you would go into closed session to discuss the act.”
Drawing from the opinion, Gisriel said, “The mere fact that an issue has legal ramifications does not mean that the public body may discuss it in closed session. I would also like to advise you and point out to you that the law itself, under section 3-305D3, reads … ‘If a person objects to the closing of a session, the public body shall send a copy of the written statement to the board.’ I hope you follow up and do that.”
He then read another portion of the compliance board’s opinion, and also raised a question to the council.
“’Finally, we encourage the council to provide the public with minutes of the portions of the closed session from which the public was excluded in violation of the act,’” Gisriel said. “I would ask that you provide that, and I also would like to raise the question, do you intend to release that information?”
“I have to work with my legal counsel,” Council President Lloyd Martin replied.
Gisriel pressed Martin again on whether the council would release the information, but Martin repeated that he would work with the resort’s legal counsel.
“With all due respect, Mr. President, that’s a non-answer as far as I am concerned,” Gisriel said before leaving the table.