Carroll County IDA Open Meetings Violation Highlights Importance of Training

Carroll County Time article (2018-10-02) highlighted the importance of ensuring local public bodies, especially all-volunteer bodies, are in compliance with Maryland’s Open Meetings Act after the State’s Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the Carroll County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) violated the Act in numerous ways over the last two years.

The IDA was created to secure new industries in the County through land and building projects. The IDA currently has 5 members who are appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.

The article stated that local activist Craig O’Donnell filed the initial complaint with the Compliance Board. From the article:

The board issued the opinion on July 17 this year, stating that the IDA closed meetings without an OMA-trained board member present; failed to provide topics to be discussed in closed meetings and its reasons for excluding the public; and generally failed to post sufficiently detailed minutes after the closed meeting so the topics of discussion could be discerned, and also failed to disclose those minutes at meetings following closed sessions.

In response to the opinion, the IDA is reviewing its open meeting procedures and has a new website for directly posting meeting minutes. From the article:

The IDA discussed at its most recent meeting the measures it is taking to comply with the Open Meetings Act — including that Secretary Frank Dertzbaugh has undergone OMA training and the approval of a new website so the IDA does not need to rely on county staff to post information from its meetings. …

“It wasn’t that we did anything unethical,” [IDA Sue Chambers] said, “it’s just we are all volunteers.”

Both the opinion and the article highlight the importance of ensuring smaller public bodies are trained on the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. Even large and well-staffed public bodies can make open meeting mistakes and smaller bodies must be especially careful about unintentional or inadvertent violations. Both MACo and the Maryland Municipal League offer open meetings training through the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance for local elected officials. Other public body members can access online training and helpful resources through the Open Meetings Act webpage.

Useful Links

Maryland Open Meetings Act Webpage

Carroll County IDA Membership & Minutes

Academy for Excellence in Local Governance Webpage