The Annapolis press corps has only recently begun attending the “pre-meetings” that members of the Board of Public Works hold in advance of their twice-monthly get-togethers. That’s why I was surprised when I got the boot Wednesday morning, the same day that members of the state spending panel slashed Maryland’s budget by almost $300 million, affecting tens of thousands of Marylanders.
The pre-meetings generally consist of a quick discussion of the issues coming before the board. It’s typically not that exciting, but since the BPW regularly approves tens of millions in state contracts, transparency is very important.
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office maintains that the pre-meetings were always open to the press. The problem was that until recently, many of us did not know they were taking place, because their time and place are not publicized in the same way that the formal meetings are. The issue came to my attention when one of Comptroller Peter Franchot’s staff members pointed out that Franchot doesn’t attend the meetings because he’s concerned about their legality under the state’s open meeting rules.
So we’re allowed to go in there now, and so I did Wednesday morning in hopes of getting just a little more context about the list of budget cuts that had still not been made public as of 10 a.m. This was about two hours before the BPW voted to approve the cuts wholesale after a brief discussion.
For the moment, I was the only reporter in the room. O’Malley came in and was trailed a few minutes later by Communications Director Rick Abbruzzese. Rick looked at me and gave me the old heave-ho, you’re out of here, thumb-over-the-shoulder gesture.
Until state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp arrived, Abbruzzese later explained, the governor’s staff would meet privately. Kopp stood in the hallway and spoke on her phone, not entering the room to create a quorum until the meeting had gone on behind closed doors for about 15 minutes. When Kopp entered the room, reporters were allowed in and we heard a short discussion of the cuts that included few specifics. We were handed a list of proposed cuts as the pre-meeting concluded.
So I’m wondering, is an open meeting closed until it officially begins? Help me out here, folks. Tell me what you think.
ANDY ROSEN, Business Writer