Yesterday, Bryan Sears of The Daily Record took the above picture and then made a tweet about it:
— Bryan P. Sears (@bpsears) March 21, 2014
Sears tweeted a link to his story on the meeting:
It’s not exactly the Papal conclave but legislators in Annapolis met behind closed doors Friday morning to discuss solutions to the Court of Appeals ruling requiring attorneys at bail hearings.
Delegates and senators who are part of a workgroup on the issue met in secret in the lounge of the House of Delegates.
Aside from the meeting not being announced, the location is essentially off limits to reporters who are allowed to pass through as they head to a section of the floor reserved for the press. Additionally, the door was closed and had a sign taped over the two doors proclaiming the room was off limits.
The state’s Open Meetings Act typically does not apply to legislative work groups because of the informal way they are created.
Alexandra Hughes, Deputy Chief of Staff to Speaker Mike Busch, was inside that meeting. Sometime after the above tweet and story went out, she was seen looking at her phone with a colleague and then Hughes left the room.
She apparently went straight to the State House press room and confronted Sears in front of several witnesses. Hughes was seen and heard screaming at Sears about what he had written. One witness reported that Sears didn’t engage as Hughes finished her angry rant and abruptly left the room. Sears declined to comment on the reports.
As Sears’ report notes, the Open Meetings Act doesn’t technically apply to workgroup meetings and they are being used more and more in Annapolis. Last year, the House Working Group on Gun Safety held several closed-door meetings with lobbyists, law enforcement, and others before they even had their first public hearing on the gun control bill. Busch defended the closed-door meetings then as being legal after a reporter was denied admission to them. There was criticism of the meetings by legislators in both parties at the time and Common Cause weighed in against them.
These meetings may be technically legal but they aren’t in the spirit of open, transparent government. It is more than a little ironic that this took place when it did. March 16-22 has been 2014 Sunshine Week nationally.
Quinton is a native South Carolinian who has lived in Baltimore since 2006. He is a recent convert to the Catholic Church and is active in the Knights of Columbus. He has been involved in the pro-life movement nationally and locally since 2010.
Quinton is a veteran who served as an intelligence analyst in the Army National Guard. He is also an Eagle Scout.