Md. Transportation Authority, Carroll Co. ran afoul of open meetings laws

Members of the Maryland Transportation Authority met without giving proper notice. Carroll County commissioners charged admission to a forum held by opponents of Gov.Martin O'Malley's statewide growth plan.

Those open meeting violations were the first issued this year by the state's oversight panel on public access to government proceedings, as listed in the Maryland Register. The issues were all raised by members of the public.

Though the findings do not carry any penalty, people can sue in civil court and allege a violation. Previous violations have led to government actions being struck down.

Here are some highlights:

Maryland Transportation Authority

The Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that the authority, which manages the Bay Bridge, the Harbor Tunnel and other state toll facilities, broke the rules in several ways. This ruling, issued in January, stemmed from complaints by Craig O’Donnell, a reporter at the Kent County News who has frequently challenged the authority about whether the meetings of its committees are properly open or closed.

-In one case, the compliance board found that a joint meeting last May of the transportation authority's capital committee and its finance committee was actually a meeting of the full authority. That was a violation because the gathering was not advertised as a full meeting, according to the board. The authority had argued that it was a joint meeting of the two committees, not a meeting of the authority.

-The compliance board also said that the authority didn't provide enough information about what it did in a closed session last June. The board noted that state law "requires a public body to include, among other things, 'a listing of the topics of discussion, persons present, and each action taken during the [closed] session.'"

-The authority might also have erred when it went into closed session last June to discuss contracts for the continued operation of state travel plazas, according to the board.

-In a separate case brought by O'Donnell, the compliance board ruled that the authority improperly tried to charge for copies of old meeting minutes from one of its committees. The transportation authority had argued that it had not been treating those committees as public bodies during the period of time covered by O'Donnell's request. In this case, the matter was complicated by the fact that a staff member died after agreeing to provide the files.

Carroll County Commissioners

As colleague Nicole Fuller wrote in January, the board found that the commissioners violated open meetings law by charging admission to a forum on the controversial PlanMaryland smart-growth policy. The forum was attended by a majority of the commissioners.

A previous version of this story gave an inaccurate description of the role that the board's decisions can play in court.

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