I wish to express my concerns that your attendance at the ACS Howard County Council “Conversation” next Tuesday, February 23, 2016 will violate the Maryland Open Meetings Act. If three or more of the members of the Council attend, the meeting is really a de facto workshop meeting on human services issues.
The law obligates the Council to give notice of the meeting and prepare minutes. I can find no evidence that any minutes were created for any of the recent ACS Conversations in 2013, 2014, or 2015.
As stated by the Maryland Attorney General:
Also irrelevant is the fact that the quorum does not make a decision or take an action. The Court of Appeals has said that a public body’s “consideration” of public business includes all phases of its deliberation, not just the decision, and the Compliance Board has explained that receiving a briefing on public business is part of the process of considering it. See 7 OMCB Opinions 85, 87 (2011). Relevant instead are the facts about what the members discussed. If a quorum of members attends the same social event, the members are not “meeting” unless they gather and start discussing the public body’s business. See, e.g., 5 OMCB Opinions 93 (2007). Likewise, for example, if two members of a three-member board find themselves in the same restaurant or store, they are not “meeting” unless they start discussing the public body’s business. 7 OMCB Opinions 269.
In short, as the Compliance Board put it, “When a quorum of a public body convenes and discusses public business within one of the functions covered by the Act, that gathering is deemed a meeting of the public body, even when the quorum was created accidentally or the discussions occurred in a meeting not called by the public body itself.” 8 OMCB Opinions 76, 79 (2012).
In addition, since it is a public meeting, the public may not be charged a $20 admission fee:
The ability to gain access to the meeting space must be provided to all who wish to attend. Thus, “a public body may not deny, through its choice of meeting site, the right of a person with a disability to observe an open meeting,” 1 OMCB Opinions 237, 239 (1997), may not restrict attendance to people who pay an admission fee, 8 OMCB Opinions 18, 25 (2012), may not restrict attendance to people on an invitation list, 7 OMCB Opinions 49 (2010), and may not exclude the press. 2 OMCB Opinions 67 (1999); see also 9 OMCB Opinions 290, 291 (2015) (meetings to be open to press and public “on equal terms”). The Court of Appeals has explained that “any action taken by the public body which discourages public attendance at the meeting to any substantial degree would likely violate the Act’s provisions.” City of New Carrollton v. Rogers, 287 Md. 56, 69 (1980).
Therefore, I request that appropriate adjustments be made to allow attendance by the public free of charge and to comply with all other requirements of the Open Meetings Act.
Annual ACS/Howard County Council “Conversation”
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Miller Library, Avalon/Patapsco Rooms
9421 Frederick Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042