The state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board issued an opinion stating that Frederick’s Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee did not violate Maryland’s Open Meetings Act by operating behind closed doors and without notice to the public.

However, the opinion said that if the complaint were taken to a court of law, it could have a different outcome.

The ruling came in response to a complaint filed in September from Peter Samuel, a longtime opponent of the proposed downtown hotel and conference center, alleging the Hotel Advisory Committee has been violating open meetings laws since its inception in 2010. The complaint estimated the committee met a total of 30 or 40 times, most of which have been behind closed doors, and said the group is not listed on the city’s website as an official board. It also said the committee was put together in a closed session.

Employees in the city’s legal department responded that the committee is not an official city board but a product of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, and thus is not subject to the rules of the Open Meetings Act.

According to the ruling, the compliance board agreed that when the hotel committee formed in 2010 it was not a public body. It did say, however, that board members do not have enough information to determine whether the committee is a public body now. The opinion pointed out that because the city’s Board of Aldermen adopted a memorandum of understanding with the committee while developing the Request for Proposals for the project and recommending a developer, it muddied the group’s definition.

“Specifically, we are unable to resolve the apparent factual disconnect between the “ad hoc advisory group” described in the City’s submissions — a private, informal and amorphous group changeable and dissolvable by the Chamber at any time, led by a chairman of its own choosing — and the entity, by the same name, that the City itself designated, in a formally-adopted MOU, to perform substantive functions regarding the developer’s performance of the contract, under the leadership of a chair whom the mayor said he had appointed,” the opinion said.

The opinion further states that a court has the resources to explore “factual questions of control and actual functioning” that the board does not.

The board’s opinion also chastised city officials for not creating a clear definition of the function of the committee regarding open meetings and transparency.

“When a governmental body decides to delegate functions to a privately-created group, the government should consider whether to require the group to act as a public body, in the sunlight,” the opinion said. “The government should also make the group’s status clear to the public at the outset. Thus, once again, “[w]e encourage governing bodies, when outsourcing governmental functions to private entities, to consider whether the delegation of the particular function should include a duty of transparency.”

Patti Mullins, the city’s public information coordinator, said City Attorney Saundra Nichols declined to comment Monday on the compliance board’s opinion.

She emailed the following response statement from Mayor Michael O’Connor:

“As the OMCB opinion was rendered against a body the City did not appoint, the findings don’t really affect us. For City appointed bodies, of course, we will comply with the Open Meetings Act.”

Samuel issued a response Saturday via his online blog, Frederick Hotel Boondoggle. The response said he is disappointed that “the board failed to give appropriate weight” to a point he made regarding city Economic Development Director Richard Griffin’s involvement in the functions of the hotel committee. He also elaborated on the response via email Monday by pointing out that the board recognized the discrepancy in the committee’s functions but did not reflect that in the ultimate opinion.

“I was disappointed that the state board declined to go the next step and declare the City clearly in violation of the Open Meetings Act. I got about 80 percent of what I sought,” the emailed statement said.

Samuel said in the online response, however, that the compliance board’s opinion “goes a considerable way in vindicating” his complaint.

“The City should be taken to court, as suggested by the state compliance board,” Samuel said in the response. “A court could according to the enforcement provisions of the Open Meetings Act, void actions taken illegally by the City (Hotel Advisory Committee), and by injunction order a new competitive procurement.”

Samuel also said via email Monday that he would like to take the city to court on the matter and that he is investigating a lawsuit and what it entails.

The Hotel Advisory Committee was formed to help bring the hotel project to fruition. Members meet sporadically, and the meetings are not open to the public. The committee was originally appointed to explore ways to bring the hotel project downtown, help develop the Request for Proposals that went out to developers, and help decide which developer to choose.

The project is in the design and historic mitigation phase. Members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, and the Maryland Historical Trust and Department of Housing and Community Development, are working parallel through the processes.

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska.

(37) comments

elymus43

The voters keep electing officials that don't listen to them???? Before the election, the candidates played it close to the vest, and did not say anything about the hotel and Hargett Farm??? Nothing is being said about helping the senior citizens or retirees???

Frayou

Can’t see anyone paying $300 a night just to stay downtown when they can go to Holiday Inn Express and pay $150. Unless your rich and have money to throw away. So, when business failed, and they threaten to sell, guess who will either buy or provide some tax benefits for business to buy and or stay?

Burgessdr

Frayou. The Holiday Inn Express is $79 off months and $119 peak. The two best hotels in Frederick run $129 off months and $179 peak. The proposed hotel is planned to have similar oom rates $150-180. Did you pull your numbers out of your you know where?

Frayou

Guess I did, but with politians suggesting downtown Frederick is such a great tourist attraction, suggest estimates remain to be confirmed. Guess time will tell.

KellyAlzan

LOL - "tourist attraction"!

We have villages of Urbana and Illegal immigrants left and right.

Lancaster PA has farms and Amish

Burgessdr

Frayou. There are about 600,000 overnight visitors to the City each year and increasing 4-5% per year or 25-30,000 each year. The projected 50,000 at the new hotel is a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, I guess you are not aware there is NO hotel downtown and no full service hotel in the county. Find me another major city tbat doesnt have a downtown hotel. The politicians are not suggesting anything. Those are the facts according to the state Department of Tourism which analyzes each county every single year

Thewheelone

While I am not in favor of tax money subsidizing any part of this hotel, I must argue with Frayou and Kelly regarding tourism in Frederick City. I work downtown on East Patrick St. on Fridays and Sundays and I am here to tell you that most of the business we get is from the large number of out of town visitors. Many of these folks come from different parts of the country and many come from Northern Virginia, Montgomery County, Western Maryland and Baltimore, including a good number from New York. I think they would be enticed to stay in a downtown hotel, especially if the price was not exorbitant.

KellyAlzan

FNP

Seems your reporter totally fouled up the facts to the story.

Please provide some coaching to this reporter to prevent this from reoccurring

KellyAlzan

Let’s get this civil complaint hummin and motion for the court to issue a hold on any further action today.

DickD

Hard to say where this is going, but it raises some serious questions.

jerseygrl42

a inaccurate headline for sure and they left a lot of wriggle room to fall back on...just in case...this deal is all about GREED and access to other peoples money to benefit themselves; I suspect most of the opponents do not care whether or not the hotel is built but they do care about the mis-use of taxpayer money that favors two families; if this project can't stand on its own two feet it should not be built ; The C/E tells us we have a $500 MILLION infra-structure deficit; lets put this $31 Million to work fixing some of those problems created by over development rather than putting it in the pockets of Plamondon and Randall

petersamuel

CORRECTION: I cited three phrases used by the OMCB finding, the third incorrectly. The phrase used was "Our inability to resolve this matter" not as I transcribed it "inability to remove this matter."

petersamuel

FALSE. The headline and the lead sentence are false. Nowhere does the state Open Meetings Compliance Board say the City did not violate the Open Meetings Act. That would have been a complete victory for the City and a complete defeat for me. It didn’t happen. The Board say they cannot make a finding one way or the other. They use these phrases: “the facts we have do not yield a clear answer...”, “we are unable to resolve….”, and “Our inability to remove this matter…”  They punted the issue. They said they couldn’t make a finding based on the facts they were able to establish. They suggested it needs a court case to determine the matter. The text of their opinion suggested they found the City story that the Hotel Advisory Committee is a private (Chamber of Commerce) body implausible, but needed more facts to make that determination, or to reject it. P Samuel

Burgessdr

Samuel and his lawyer buddy down the street are terribly slow. The Open Meetings Act explicitly states the statute of limitations is 45 days. The award to Plamondon was made 2 years and 45 days ago and the advisory committee first met over 8 years ago. How tardy of Samuel. He should have voiced his objections years ago, instead he was dozing and failed to attend and speak at any of the dozen OPEN TO THE PUBLIC meetings before deal was signed. This is just an impotent last ditch Hail Mary.

Frayou

Get the tax dollars and government involvement out of the picture and maybe the private business meeting wouldn’t been such a big concern?

DickD

Absolutely, Frayou! [thumbup]

Frayou

At the risk of sounding like I vent a little frustration, well I probably am. I’m 66 years old and filed for social security accordingly. As most who have done so the government SS website made it known via statement up front before I applied that the SS fund will likely have to reduce distribution levels to approximately 76% by year 2034/35, unless Congress take necessary steps to correct appropriations. This country is facing s 21 trillion dollar deficit and growing. Today the republicans will likely pass tax relief for the rich which they maintain will be good for the overall population. 1.5 trillion additional debt. Trickle down economics which they maintain businesses will reinvest in America’s well-being. Well let me educate the politians. Corporations are cold entities whose only responsibility is to it shareholders and will take actions necessary to increase profit. They don’t give a darn about the general well-being of the nation or its general population. So, when I here about government grants being given away ( corporate welfare) in the name of doing good for the general public taxpayer, when this government continues to send money which it needs to borrow and not pay down it debts, I really get upset. Yes, I realize 34 million is nothing considering 21 trillion, but when & where does it stop? When we hit bottom I guess and who do we think will suffer the most then? It sure as H won’t be congress as I suspect they have already planned their financial security in advance when that time comes. Sorry for venting.

rbtdt5

You must have been miserable during the Obama years then.

Frayou

I didn’t vote for him. But initially when he was elected I was optimistic thinking government could use some young blood. Yes I was disappointed but some things you can control and you move on.

rbtdt5

Even if found guilty, the hotel is still being built. And no tax money is going toward it. The money is being used for the area around it. It benefits all of downtown. Oh well, haters going to hate but we are getting our hotel.

bicep42

Who is "we"? When and by whine were you appointed a spokesperson for this shady project?
Attacking the messengers who are pointing out the inaccuracies and/ or blantant falsehoods contained in this fabricated story doesn't change the truth.

rbtdt5

We = the people of Frederick. I'm not speaking for anyone or a spokesman and I'm not attacking anyone. I said no matter the outcome of this, we are still getting our hotel. How is that attacking anyone?

gardenwhimsey

If it is "our" hotel, then as a tax-paying, home-owning, resident of Frederick City, I want my fair share of the profits garnered from "our" hotel.

rbtdt5

You will in the form of taxes that it's customers generated shopping and eating downtown

KellyAlzan

wrong RBT. the tax dollars are going towards the money from the state.

Burgessdr

Kelly. You are doubly wrong. The state sales tax dollars are going to cover the $15 million from the state bonds. No personal income or real estate tax dollars, only those from those who stay, dine, or shop downtown associated with new hotel. The state budget office says that estimated tax revenue is TWICE the service on the debt. That means over 25 years, the state and the public will be ahead $15 million. There is something like $5 million in TIF bonds for city and county. Again, according to the state, the real estate taxes will cover those bonds times TWO. Meaning $5 million will go to city and county for use by schools,.police, etc. The bonds for.the parking garage will be sold to private investors, it's not associated with any "public" dollars. The bonds will be paid back by those who park at the garage just like the other 5 city parking decks. There will also be revenue from tourism tax to pay back bonds. Tourists will be paying the tax, not residents of Frederick. Bottom line is not a single penny of your measly personal income or real estate taxes will be used for the hotel or conference center.

KellyAlzan

You keep saying “no tax money is being used”. But all the stories in the FNP state otherwise.

rbtdt5

No, the tax dollars are being used for parking, infrastructure, site prep. The Developers are paying 100% for the hotel. This is a good investment on our tax dollars.

KellyAlzan

Board of Public Works isn’t a Statw entity?

rbtdt5

And everyone keeps saying those funds would be better spent here or there or anywhere. And some very good suggestions but the truth is, if those state tax dollars don't go to this they will just go fund a project like this in Montgomery County or Baltimore. They won't go toward schools or roads or anything else useful.

shiftless88

I wonder if at this point filing a law suit will accomplish anything. I suspect the hotel will be well on the way to being built, if not completed, by the time any judgement would come

nbouqu1

if a lawsuit were to be filed, a TRO would be issued to prevent the project from moving forward until the issues raised are resolved.

Burgessdr

Wrong. The court could dismiss it right away.

KellyAlzan

“Could”.

But it’s very very rare that any court dismisses civil cases.

Burgessdr

No, happens all the time.

Crusty Frederick Man 64

I really think the public deserves a comment from the City Attorney, or is there the fear of a possible lawsuit and I better keep my pie hole shut ! After all I thought there was going to be transparency in this new and wonderful administration that acts like we are the best of the best. Doesn’t look like things are going to change much. [sad]

KellyAlzan

You have my full support, Sam

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