Would your local government rather you stay in the dark, like mushrooms do?
If testimony in the General Assembly by the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League every year is the measure, the answer is “yes.”
Each time the idea of making local government and its board and commission members aware of the law concerning open meetings and how to conduct public business comes up in the General Assembly, they haul out the same set of excuses — which your elected representatives in Annapolis parrot.
The two organizations are supported by local government memberships — your money — and the members are council members and commissioners — your elected representatives. MACo and MML lobbyists aren’t, technically, lobbyists because they’ve convinced the General Assembly to exempt these local government membership organizations. But in truth, they lobby for loopholes.
The top 10 reasons, according to MACo and the MML, why members of boards and commissions should not have to take the free online Open Meetings Act training:
10. No internet at home.
Use the public library, paid for by public money.
9. Volunteers don’t have the time.
There’s no board in Maryland that consumes less than two hours a year, which is what the training should take.
8. Forced training means fewer volunteers.
If volunteers don’t want to learn how to properly conduct public business they shouldn’t be appointed to any committee conducting public business.
The more citizens that know how meetings are to be properly conducted, the better. The volunteers will return to being plain citizens. They might find the knowledge valuable.
Ask your local zoning board how much annual training they must take. I’ve yet to see a zoning board short of members except when the council or commissioners are fooling around with appointments for reasons of their own.
And the Number 1 reason, according to MACo written testimony:
1. “However, the inclusion of all officers will place a burden on all sizes of public bodies and will be especially challenging for small volunteer bodies that in many cases are already struggling to attract participants.”
Yes, the same 35-word comment is used in opposing four bills in this year’s session; the same paragraph, without any data to back up the “many” bodies “struggling” to find members, is recycled every year.
The “participants” are bound by the law whether they know it or not — and there are many who don’t. Something else probably causes the “struggle” for members.
It’s long past time for the MML and MACo to step out of their box, stop claiming that knowing the law costs money and take the right stand on training for the Open Meetings Act. If anything costs money, it’s public bodies responding to avoidable citizen complaints to the Open Meetings Compliance Board.
When the local government members of the MML and MACo speak up and say, “Get out of the way of sensible legislation,” then so will the municipal lobbyists.
O’Donnell is an expert in government transparency. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.