Wicomico School Board Violates Meeting Act

SALISBURY – School officials in Wicomico County this week announced violations of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

The Wicomico County Board of Education opened its monthly meeting on Tuesday by disclosing its violations of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

Board Vice President Gene Malone said an opinion issued by the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board on May 17 determined the school board had violated several provisions of the Open Meetings Act, most of which pertaining to closed session procedures.

“Earlier this year the Open Meetings Compliance Board received a complaint alleging violations by this board of the Open Meetings Act, largely concerning our procedure for entering closed sessions, as well as the disclosures made prior to and after adjourning closed sessions,” he said.

Specifically, the school board was found in violation of the Open Meetings Act by failing to provide sufficient detail of closed session topics, failing to provide sufficient detail of the administrative functions performed by the board after recessing an open meeting into a closed session, failing to follow the statutorily required procedure for entering closed session on June 13, 2017, and August 9, 2017, failing to provide the correct information about the start time of board meetings, and failing to post each meeting on the board’s website.

Tuesday’s announcement came nearly four months after the Worcester County Board of Education addressed its own violations to the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

The complaint in each case was filed by Craig O’Donnell, a former Kent County News reporter and advocate for government transparency.

Since last year, O’Donnell said he has reviewed meeting minutes of nearly 14 school boards – including those in Worcester and Wicomico counties – in his spare time.

“No one has ever done this, and I thought it would be valuable,” he said. “I started about a year ago taking six months of minutes from school boards and reviewing them … Some of them have been easy because they have been very good and others haven’t.”

O’Donnell said he hopes his research will benefit community members and hold school leaders accountable.

“Hopefully people understood they (the board) need to provide information on what they plan to do and what they did,” he said.

While the school board acknowledged it had changed some practices prior to receiving the opinion from the Open Meetings Compliance Board, Malone said the school board has since addressed other violations by adjusting its closing statements, updating its website to better reflect the start times of both open and closed sessions, updating meeting information online and increasing the amount of detail provided in closed session summaries.

“As a result, each of the violations found by the compliance board have already been addressed by this board, and we will continue to work toward our goal of maximum transparency with the understanding that certain discussions and information must remain confidential,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.