Is a radio show a meeting?
Complaints sent Tuesday to the state's Open Meetings Compliance Board raise that question and others.
Former Frederick County planning commissioner Catherine Forrence and Washington County resident Kimberly Mellon called for the board to investigate the appearance of three county commissioners on a WFMD radio show.
Commissioners Billy Shreve and Paul Smith were guests Saturday on "Frederick's Forum" discussing the proposed sale of the county-owned Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living Facility.
When Commissioner Kirby Delauter called in to the show, Forrence and Mellon said, the conversation met the requirements of a quorum and therefore required the commissioners to give the public prior notice of the meeting.
“I think having a quorum of a public body discussing this issue, which you know is critical to the county, violates the open meetings act,” Forrence said.
Forrence opposes selling the facilities, she said.
The Open Meetings Act stipulates that conference calls can be considered public meetings if they "convene a quorum of a public body for the consideration or transaction of public business."
County Attorney John Mathias disagreed with the notion that the commissioners' participation in the show constituted a meeting under Maryland law.
“It's hard to see how three commissioners appearing on a radio show would violate the Open Meetings Act,” he said, “It seems bizarre that this effort to have an open, transparent communication with the public at large would violate open meeting law.”
If the county received an open meetings complaint, they would respond accordingly, he said.
The purpose of the show was to answer questions, Smith said. He did not think Delauter's call violated open meeting law because they were not setting policy.
“If I had thought it was, I would have said, 'hey, that's Kirby — don't take the call,'” he said.
Delauter said he joined the conversation to correct a statement regarding the finances of the facilities.
“There was no policy discussed," he said.
Mellon's letter states that Shreve, speaking on behalf of the board, announced "a plan" to create a county-funded reverse mortgage program to facilitate caring for seniors in their homes until death.
Shreve's comments were not board policy, Smith said.
“It was his statement, it was not a board statement,” he said, reiterating that the two were there to answer questions and not to vote on anything.
The public should have been made aware of the radio appearance, Mellon wrote, because new details of the proposed sale were discussed, including cost of care, plans linking the proceeds of the sale of the homes to the county land trust, environmental hazards and subcontractor performance.
“All of this information should be part of the public record,” Forrence said.
Delauter said no new information was made public on the radio show. Instead, it was the commissioners giving their opinions on the sale.
Shreve dismissed the complaints as frivolous.
“There are so many bogus claims come up like this where people are trying to do whatever they can to cause problems,” he said.
The Open Meetings Compliance Board was unable to confirm Tuesday that it had received the complaints. The three-member independent board is appointed by the governor and receives staff support from the state attorney general's office.
A public meeting on the proposed Citizen/Montevue sale is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 25 at Frederick Community College's Jack B. Kussmaul Theater.
Forrence was concerned that the compliance board would not have time to investigate before a June 25 public meeting on the sale, but said she hoped an investigation would encourage "self-reflection" about transparency among the commissioners.
Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.
If you go
What: Public meeting on the proposed Citizen/Montevue sale
When: 6 p.m. June 25
Where: Frederick Community College's Jack B. Kussmaul Theater