BERLIN – New procedures have been set for executive sessions in Berlin after the town had a request for records of closed meetings following talks of inappropriate policy discussions.
New procedures include sending agenda items to town attorney Dave Gaskill to be vetted for compliance with the open media law prior to finalizing the agenda.
“That didn’t always happen in the past,” said Town Council Vice President Gee Williams.
Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary said forwarding the agendas to Gaskill is just part of the equation.
“There’ll be no pre-scheduled executive sessions. They’re only scheduled if there’s need,” she said “We’re only going to have an executive session if there is in fact something to legitimately consider.”
Williams also said the agenda would be set the week before, with no changes after it is sent out to the council.
“Once we’ve got the agenda, it’s set. That’s a very recent change,” he said. “Sometimes we’re the last people to know and that doesn’t sit well with me or the rest of the council.”
In the past, changes would be posted outside City Hall, but not sent to the council.
“Traditions are harder to change than ordinances or charters,” Williams said.
A local publication requested records, both minutes and tape recordings, of six executive sessions earlier this year, prompted by rumors that the town council and Mayor Tom Cardinale were discussing policy matters in closed executive sessions, which is not permitted under Maryland’s Open Meeting law.
“I see no need to honor this request,” said Council member Paula Lynch of the original inquiry in January. At that time, she said she felt the council had legitimate reasons for discussing items in closed session.
The council then unanimously voted to deny the request for minutes and tapes of six closed session meetings. The weekly newspaper then filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board.
Since then, the town council has been attempting to tighten up compliance by making detailed reports during the open session of their biweekly meetings of topics discussed at the closed sessions.
This week the council voted to release the minutes and tape recordings of the Nov. 13 closed session meeting. Items included an annexation agreement for the Tyson plant property and impact fees at Decatur Farm.
“It seems to me of all the sessions, it had the most that was in retrospect better handled in open meetings,” Williams said.