ROCKVILLE – Nearly two months after a state board reported the city government violated the state’s Open Meeting Act, city officials attended a workshop on public notices last week in Ocean City.
The mayor, a council member and six city staffers attended the annual Maryland Municipal League conference, which ran from June 26-29, which featured a speech by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as well a number of presentations and workshops about municipal government, including one on the Open Meeting Act.
On May 2, the Open Meetings Compliance Board determined the City Council violated the state’s Open Meetings Act “by not adopting minutes in a timely fashion” for two walking tours conducted by the council because it took eight months to post the minutes.
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Board members also acknowledged the city’s Elections Board later “adopted minutes for the meetings that it held from March 12, 2015 through November 4, 2015” and was “working to catch up on the remaining minutes.”
Council member Virginia Onley said City Council members are now being more proactive for issuing public notices of meetings attended by a majority of the council after the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board’s May 2 letter.
“I think we pretty much resolved it because now when we see there’s going to be three members from the mayor and council at a meeting, we post it,” she said.
If the city clerk cannot attend a meeting, she said members of the city’s governing body take notes themselves.
“It’s nice if the clerk can be there but if Kathleen cannot attend, to me it doesn’t seem like a big deal if we make note of what we said,” Onley said. “Especially if it’s late evenings or weekends, especially with Kathleen, it will be hard to line her schedule up on a Saturday or a Sunday.”
Along with the presentation about changes in the Open Meetings Act, Onley said she also attended a presentation about the working structure of government and a workshop on municipal budgeting.
At the conference, the council avoided a quorum as only two elected officials attended: Onley and Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton.
From the city staff, Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau, City Clerk and Director of Council Operations Kathleen Conway, deputy clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell, senior legislative analyst Linda Moran and two deputy city attorneys attended the conference that also featured representatives from Gaithersburg and Takoma Park.
According to Taylor-Ferrell, that includes issuing a notification for “when it’s not our meeting and it’s a county meeting” attended by City Council members.
Conway said she attended at least eight meetings, including ones on the Open Meetings Act; consensus and teambuilding; structure of municipal government; municipal budgeting; Public Information Act; creative was to communicate with residents; updating and amending codes; and fraud awareness and prevention.
The Open Meetings Act meeting she said served as a general discussion around when meetings need public notice.
Now two months into her job as city clerk, Conway said she learned at the conference how there are “shades of gray” for what constitutes a social meeting among elected officials and one in which official business is discussed.