County Rejects Open Meeting Ruling

SNOW HILL- Worcester County officials this week disagreed with the decision by a state board that the County Commissioners violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act during a late May budget meeting, a decision handed down last week.

Instead of finishing the discussion of the consolidation of three departments into one in the open budget work session on May 26, the county commissioners went into closed session ostensibly to protect the identity of the workers who faced losing their jobs under the merger of the three departments. Several of those positions in danger of lay off were mentioned open session by Human Resources director George Bradley.

A press release from the Worcester County Commissioners, reacting to the Open Meetings Compliance Board’s decision, does not acknowledge the board’s conclusion that the commissioners violated  the Open Meetings Act by discussing policy matters, not just individual employees.

The county release reads: “we respectfully disagree with their opinion that the discussion should have taken place in open session…such an opinion reflects a callous disregard for the feelings of the employees affected by the consolidation.”

The Open Meetings Compliance Board opinion specifically addressed the personnel exception of the Open Meetings Act, which permits government bodies to hold discussions of individual personnel in closed session.

The letter, dated October 27, states that the discussions during the closed meeting, after reviewing the minutes of that closed session, were not limited to matters covered by the personnel exception.

“Discussion about consolidating county departments cannot be deemed a personnel matter to the extent discussion extended beyond the impact on individual, identifiable employees,” the letter reads. “Other matters were discussed, such as a suggested severance package, when the decision affecting the employees should be implemented, available alternatives such as furloughs, and the merits of re-organization in general.”

However, the county, through its press release, disagreed with the finding. Worcester County’s press release concludes: “The Commissioners, wanting employees whose jobs were being consolidated to be informed of their pending job losses before reading about it in the local papers, chose to close the meeting. It is an action would repeat if personnel matters could be compromised and is certainly allowed by law.”