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Board of Estimates to open door during 'mini-meetings'


For decades, Baltimore's Board of Estimates has discussed city business in a closed-door meeting that preceded its public session.

Not any more, officials say.

Yesterday, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, the board's president, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who controls the board's actions by virtue of his appointments to the panel, announced that beginning July 1 the so-called "mini-meetings" would be open to the public.

"It took four years, but here we are. Let the sun shine," said Mrs. Clarke, who has sought to reduce the amount of business the board does in secret.

The board, however, still reserves the right to enter into executive session on personnel questions and other "sensitive matters," including lawsuit settlements, Mr. Schmoke said.

"Generally we felt the matters we discussed were matters that the public should hear," Mr. Schmoke said.

The Board of Estimates -- a panel of the city's top elected and appointed officials -- has final say over all city contracts, purchases and personnel. The board meets each Wednesday. For as long as many can remember, it has always first done its business in private before convening for a public session that begins at 10 a.m.

When Walter S. Orlinsky was president of the City Council, he boycotted the mini-meetings. And there probably isn't a City Hall reporter who hasn't tried to have them opened up.

This spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation placing tougher restrictions on the closing of public meetings. Mr. Schmoke said he supported opening the mini-meetings because it was "in the spirit" of the new state law.

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