Morgan State's governing board violated Open Meetings Act

Morgan State University's Board of Regents violated the state open meetings law when it did not give proper notice of a hastily convened executive committee meeting, the Open Meetings Compliance Board found this week.

The executive committee, which met on Friday, May 2, posted notice of its meeting to the college's website just one day before. The attorney for the regents said the meeting needed to be called quickly and that it took a few days to settle on a place and time.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board, which issued its ruling on Thursday, found that was not reasonable advance notice. The compliance board suggested steps the body could take in the future to better informing the public of its meetings. For example, the regents could develop a list of people who may want to be informed of meetings held on short notice, and post a notice to its website that a meeting will occur even as specific details are still being worked out.

Morgan Board of Regents Chair Kweisi Mfume said the regents were going to take the advice of the compliance board and look to various methods to provide better notification to the public, including posting notice to the university's website sooner, notifying the media, and possibly putting a notice in the Maryland Register.

"I really appreciate their guidance on this," Mfume said. "They acknowledge that public bodies are going to have urgent meetings from time to time, but they gave us guidance that I'm sure will help us in the future."

Maryland's open meetings law provides for no significant punishment for those that violate it. In some other states, if a meeting is found to be improperly closed to the public, any action taken in that meeting can be invalidated.

Minutes from the May 2 meeting were not available on Morgan State's website this week. Mfume said the meeting was to discuss the evaluation of President David Wilson.

The person who filed the complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board, Eric White, said in an email he was spurred by dissatisfaction with the board's transparency. White, who said he is a 1980 Morgan alum, said he was satisfied with the compliance board's ruling but complained about further issues with the Morgan regents, including his difficulty in obtaining their meeting materials and minutes.

In February 2013, the Open Meetings Compliance Board cited the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents for meeting in secret to discuss the University of Maryland, College Park's move to the Big Ten athletic conference, and officials acknowledged that they had broken state law by failing to notify the public about the details of the meeting.

Last July, the board also ruled that the USM Board of Regents, which oversees all of the state's public universities with the exception of Morgan and St. Mary's College of Maryland, was routinely violating the open meetings law.

In that case, the board found that the USM regents were regularly and improperly invoking the law's "administrative function" exemption to discuss public business in private. The USM regents were also meeting in executive session or closed session without properly citing the reasons why they could legally do so. The Open Meetings Compliance Board urged the USM regents to remember that the law "sets openness as a default, not as an exception."

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