When is the Next Council Meeting? Agenda Center Creates Confusion

In an effort to better align with the requirements of Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, the City of Rockville has revised the Agenda Center for Mayor and Council to included anything and everything that might be attended by one or more councilmembers. The City has violated the Open Meetings Act in previous years and new City Attorney is reviewing everything to assure compliance. The problem is that the Agenda Center is now a mishmash that makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Can you easily locate the regular meeting of the Mayor and Council in this screenshot of the Agenda Center?

A revision of the Agenda Center for the Mayor and Council lists anything and everything a councilmember may be attending. Can you find the regular meeting of the Mayor and Council? It’s on May 8.

The confusion is caused by treating all meetings the same, when they’re not. Residents and businesses want to attend the meetings that have the most impact on them, which are the Mayor and Council meetings. While a councilmember may attend the East Rockville Civic Association or the Rockville Economic Development board meeting, the City Council is not making decisions about taxes or ordinances at those events. The next step is keep the audience in mind–who uses the Agenda Center? Who is it for primarily? Secondly, distinguish the meetings to highlight the meetings that are most important for the audience. Hire a good graphic designer to figure this out. Otherwise, it’s going to cause residents and business to be even more frustrated in their efforts to learn what their elected officials are doing (have you noticed that minutes aren’t available for about six weeks, which means you have to rewatch the entire council meeting for the latest news).

The latest annual report of the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board (which has no budget and no staff!) notes that it received 57 complaints concerning 95 separate entities, so ensuring that government operates transparently and openly is an ongoing concern. It also summarized the most common violations by city councils, boards, and commissions (emphasis mine):

“The overall number of complaints, and of those in which we found a violation, remains small in proportion to the total number of public bodies statewide. This fiscal year saw a significant increase in the number of opinions we issued (forty-eight), which is eighteen more than the previous year and the most we have issued in a single year since at least Fiscal Year 2013. But much of this increase may be attributable to COVID-19: Many complaints alleged violations of the Act based on practices that public bodies have adopted in light of the pandemic (for example, requiring the public to observe meetings virtually or limiting how many people may attend a meeting in person19), or alleged violations related to meetings (or alleged meetings) that involved topics of discussion directly related to the pandemic (for example, masking policies and other COVID-19 protocols).

“In any event, although we issued forty-eight opinions this year, we found violations in twenty-five opinions, a little over half the total number of opinions for FY 2022. Of those opinions involving one or more violations, fewer than half of the opinions (eleven)
involved a failure to provide reasonable notice of a meeting. The most common type of violation (found in eighteen opinions) involved some deficiency related to meeting minutes, either the failure to prepare or post them timely, or the failure to provide enough details. Thirteen opinions involved the failure to fully satisfy the Act’s procedural requirements for closing a meeting to the public. Eleven involved a violation of the Act’s general openness requirements, most often because a public body failed to make clear in its meeting notice that the body would be meeting in open session before entering closed session, or because a public body misapplied an exception in GP § 3-305(b) and discussed a matter in closed session that should have been open to the public.”

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