Frederick News-Post Supports Fines For Open Meetings Violations

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Baltimore County Delegate Dan Morhaim is proposing legislation that would authorize the Open Meetings Compliance Board to fine government entities that it finds has violated Maryland’s Open Meetings Act.  The Board would be able to impose up to a $1,000 fine for a first offense and up to a $10,000 fine for a subsequent offense within three years.  A January 14 Frederick News-Post editorial supports the initiative:

We’ve editorialized before on our frustration that the board, which rules on complaints about government agencies being less than transparent in conducting business publicly, has little authority to actually ensure compliance.  …

As the law stands, the only recourse we as journalists and you, the public, have to force government boards, commissions, councils, etc., to comply is to make a complaint to the compliance board. If a violation is found, the board issues a toothless opinion — nothing more than a paper recommendation that violators conform. We know — and they know — it can be ignored with few ramifications.

Should complainants wish to take their complaints further, they have to file a lawsuit. Most government entities know that’s beyond the reach of most of our wallets, and rely on that discouragement to continue flaunting the law.  …

Finally, this legislation will encourage more people who may have been put off by the costly prospect of a lawsuit to file complaints. That’s a good thing — we need more public watchdogs. We’d like to see this fine apply also when the Open Meetings Act’s sister law, the Maryland Public Information Act, is violated.

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