Josh Kim’s recent article that discussed the Ocean City Council violations of the Open Meetings [Act] was very informative. I would like to offer a clarification.
Mr. Kim is correct in saying that beyond issuing opinions, the State of Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board has no actual authority. However, while the board’s opinions are advisory, the open meeting law does not affect or prevent the use of any other available laws.
For example, the board made it very clear said the council’s presiding officer, Council President Lloyd Martin, not the staff, is accountable for making a complete and accurate closing statement that reflects the topics that the public body expects to discuss in closed session and the reasons for the public body’s vote to discuss the topic behind closed doors.
Section C-404 of the Ocean City Charter requires that except “for those meetings permitted to be closed under state law, all meetings of the Mayor and Council shall be open to the public.”
The Open Meetings Compliance Board, an independent state agency with significant expertise in interpreting the open meeting law, issued an opinion that the council president presided over closed meetings that the Ocean City Charter required to open to public participation.
Section C-416 of the charter goes on to say a violation of the charter provision is declared to be a misdemeanor and (under Section C-606) any person who fails to perform any duty required of him under the provisions of the charter and is convicted of a misdemeanor under the provisions of the charter shall immediately upon conviction cease to hold such office.
These provisions permit someone with charging the council president with a misdemeanor crime.
In addition, since the board found that the council violated the core requirement of the law that states “except as otherwise expressly provided in the law, a public body shall meet in open session” any person can now go into court and attempt to convince a judge to overturn the franchise agreement extension.
While the board’s opinions are advisory, the above two example clearly show the opinions can have very serious consequences for violators.