The Frederick County Council violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act during two closed sessions in August, the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board has ruled.
According to the board’s opinion, which Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) acknowledged during a meeting Tuesday, the council failed to provide "any meaningful information" about the topics discussed in closed session as part of its meeting summary, and the body failed to maintain adequate closed-session minutes.
“The Council states that it complied with the Act’s disclosure requirements ‘in such a way as to not compromise the confidentiality of the discussion,’” the board’s opinion reads. “While we appreciate the need to keep the details of closed sessions confidential, we nonetheless find that the Council violated the Act by failing to adequately document and provide the public any meaningful information about the topics discussed.”
During the first of the closed meetings, which took place Aug. 16, the council went into closed session to “consider a matter that concerns the proposal for a business or industrial organization to locate, expand, or remain in the state and to consult with counsel to obtain legal advice,” according to minutes from the meeting.
All seven council members voted to go into closed session and, according to the minutes, the council didn’t take any action.
The Compliance Board’s opinion, which was published Monday, came in response to an initial complaint filed Sept. 13, Assistant County Attorney Catherine Keller said in an email. Keller said she was unable to provide the complainant's name because their information wasn’t included in the board’s opinion.
Keegan-Ayer said she was confused by the complaint given that the body didn’t vote or take any action during the closed meeting.
“It was just an informational meeting, that’s it,” Keegan-Ayer said. “And I think that’s why we’re all kind of perplexed.”
Joining council members and their staff at the meeting were County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and Helen Propheter, director for the county’s Office of Economic Development.
Based on the meeting minutes, there were 13 individuals at the meeting who don't appear to be part of county government. A Google search showed that at least six of the names -- Michael Punke, Tony Burkart, Becky Ford, Garrett Jansma, Keith Klein and Matt Mincieli -- match LinkedIn accounts of Amazon Web Services, Inc. officials in such departments as economic development, real estate acquisition and development, environmental policy and public policy.
Keegan-Ayer declined to comment when asked whether Amazon officials attended the Aug. 16 closed session meeting.
On Aug. 24, the council again went into closed session to “consider a matter that concerns the proposal for a business or industrial organization to locate, expand, or remain in the state.” An individual named Patrick Schempff provided testimony, according to meeting minutes. The meeting adjourned less than 20 minutes after going into closed session.
The Compliance Board’s opinion is an advisory only, Keller said in her email, meaning the County Council is only required to acknowledge and provide a summary of the opinion at its next meeting -- which Keegan-Ayer did on Tuesday.
Keegan-Ayer said the council won’t go back and change minutes from a meeting that already happened, especially given that changes would be reliant on the memory of those in attendance. She said the body will work to provide more detailed accounts of future closed meetings.