Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled on July 29 that Baltimore’s board of finance violated transparency laws by holding a closed meeting to approve $100 million in city issued bonds for the Harbor Point’s $1.8 billion development initiative.
The Open Meeting Compliance Board is an independent state run agency housed in the State’s Attorney’s Office.
The ruling came after a complaint was filed to the board by various media outlets such as The Baltimore Sun and Fox 45, which were barred from a May 30 meeting, said Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson. During the meeting the board voted to approve a request for city-issued bonds to build roads, utilities and parks for the Harbor Point development.
“The closed meeting form had been the practice for at least 15 years in the city,” said Nilson. “Close meetings typically involved the discussion of financial assistance packages to attract a company to come to town, expansion or to persuade a company to stay.”
In the May 30 meeting, however, it was no secret that Exelon was moving its headquarters to Baltimore or the project would be headed by Michael S. Beatty’s development group.
“In this case, a closed meeting didn’t apply because everything was already known,” said Nilson. “Nothing was confidential.”
The Open Meetings Compliance Board ruling does not invalidate the approved bond request for the Harbor Point project, said Nilson. Instead, it sets a precedent for how the city must conduct financial meetings in the future.
According to the Open Meetings Act, in October, public bodies who violate this act will receive an initial fine of $250. Any repeat violations will result a fine of $1,000.
“It is unfortunate the meeting was not held in noncompliance,” said Nilson. “We hope to do better next time.”
A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7 in front of the city council’s taxation, finance and economic development committee.