Thursday, May 24, 2012

Legal Weapon (Thursday LINKS)

As noted yesterday, Board of Education member Allen Dyer has served four of his fellow Board members with a Complaint, alleging that they violated the Open Meetings Act by approving minutes of a closed meeting.  Dyer seeks to have all four members fined $500 each.

To be very clear, the meetings that form the subject of the Complaint are covered by an exception to the Open Meetings Act:

§ 10-508. Closed sessions permitted.

(a)  In general.- Subject to the provisions of subsection (d) of this section, a public body may meet in closed session or adjourn an open session to a closed session only to:  
(1) discuss: 
(i) the appointment, employment, assignment, promotion, discipline, demotion, compensation, removal, resignation, or performance evaluation of appointees, employees, or officials over whom it has jurisdiction; or  

As such, the fact that a closed meeting was held is not alleged to be the violation at issue in Mr. Dyer's Complaint.  Rather, it seems that this action is premised under subsection (d)(2), which provides:

(2) Before a public body meets in closed session, the presiding officer shall: 
(i) conduct a recorded vote on the closing of the session; and 
(ii) make a written statement of the reason for closing the meeting, including a citation of the authority under this section, and a listing of the topics to be discussed.
The most common legal action under the Open Meetings Act have been to strike down government action or open previously closed proceedings.  The remedy of a civil fine is available, but rarely applied.

I have not seen the Complaint, but according to Sara Toth's article: "Aquino, French, Siddiqui and Giles all voted to approve the minutes taken from those meetings which, according to the complaint, did not include dates, times, places, people present or the subject matter of those meetings."  Moreover, to the extent this action was about transparency or making information available to the public, the Maryland Attorney General maintains an Open Meetings Compliant Board, which exists to "promote future compliance by educating public bodies and members of the public."

This Complaint is not about the Open Meetings Act. We know, or at least have a very good sense, of the dates, times, places, people present, and subject matter of the meetings held to select a superintendent.  This Complaint focuses on a technical violation of the Act, behind which there is little substance.  By all appearances, Mr. Dyer has used the Open Meetings Act as a means of retribution.  The law is being used as a weapon. 


Baltimore City will be raising water and sewer rates for the eighth time in 12 years, with an average increase of 9%.

Senator Barbara Mikulski's Paycheck Fairness Act has made its way back into the spotlight as Democrats work to court women voters in 2012.  The Act "limits the circumstances under which an employer can legally pay men and women differently. It also lets women sue employers for punitive damages if they can demonstrate they were treated unfairly."  I tend to share the concerns that are noted in the article.  While this legislation sounds good, intentional discrimination will be left to the determination of a jury, along with whatever they consider to be "reasonable punitive damages."  The Act could very well be retitled the "Attorney Employment Act", as we can expect plaintiff attorneys to flock to any practice area that takes the cap off of damages and puts the merits of their case entirely in the subjective ether of interpretive memos.  I want to work towards equal pay for equal work, but the courtroom is not the means to get there.

The Maryland Board of Public Works has approved $161 million in school construction projects, including new elementary and middle schools in Howard County.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB provides some analytics on his readers, which provides an interesting snapshot of who is paying attention to hyper-local "stuff".  With all due respect to the more senior contingent, I was happy to see that his readers are getting younger. 

That's all for today.  First meeting of the "new" CA Board of Directors tonight.  I'm very excited about the next year and hope we get off on the right foot.  Big things are happening.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love.