A state board has ruled that Brunswick city officials violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act during a closed session in August.
The Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board, part of the state Attorney General’s Office and the body tasked with enforcing the Open Meetings Act, ruled the city violated multiple parts of the law, including failing to provide an accurate list of all individuals present during the closed session.
“While the same procedures and processes were followed for this meeting that have been followed by the city for all other closed meetings for many years, we understand the board’s findings and interpretations, and will immediately make necessary adjustments to our process and procedures going forward,” Mayor Nathan Brown said in a prepared statement during the city’s Jan. 11 meeting.
Because the Compliance Board’s opinion is advisory only, according to county attorneys, the city was just required to acknowledge and provide a summary of the opinion at the next meeting, which came Jan. 11.
Minutes from the Aug. 17 meeting state that the city met to “discuss a potential business locating in Brunswick,” and a list of those present included Brown, the six members of the City Council and a number of county staff, though there’s no mention that personnel from the business in question were present too.
Brown said in an interview Wednesday the city omitted individual names to conceal the identity of the business, but state law requires governing bodies to publish at least a generic description of who else was there, like “representatives of the subject business.”
The mayor declined to say how many people aside from city staff were present or what businesses they represented.
“The city had been diligently working with a business about the potential of locating in Brunswick,” Brown said during the city’s Jan. 11 meeting. “We were working towards beginning the public discussions and process. We regret that due to issues with this business and other government agencies (beyond the city of Brunswick), all discussions have now ceased.”
The Compliance Board also found in its opinion, published Jan. 5, that the city failed to adequately notify the public that it would meet openly before entering into closed session and didn’t provide the public an opportunity to object to the closure.
A post on the city’s official Facebook page from Aug. 16 stated that the mayor and City Council would hold a closed session the following day to “discuss a proposal for a business to locate in the city in accordance with the Maryland Open Meetings Act.” But the post didn’t mention that the city would first meet openly, which the Open Meetings Act requires.
Lastly, the Compliance Board ruled the city failed to properly cite the statute that allowed for the closed session. In its minutes from the Aug. 17 meeting, the city cited a statute that had been repealed and was no longer in effect.
One day before the city’s closed session meeting, the Frederick County Council held the first of a pair of closed meetings. In a similar ruling in December, the Compliance Board found the County Council had violated the Open Meetings Act in each of its closed meetings.
Based on the County Council’s minutes, which unlike minutes from Brunswick’s meeting included a full list of attendees, there were 13 people at the meeting who didn’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 officials with Amazon in such departments as economic development, real estate acquisition and development, environmental policy and public policy.