Warm Glow Of Tradition Falls Short Of Open Meetings Law


October 27, 1991|By Mark Fleming

Christmas is a time for secrets.

Shaking the colorfully wrapped presents under the tree is as much a tradition in my family as hangingstockings from the mantel to be filled with nuts and raisins and tennis wristbands.

Christmas is a season of warmth, a time for giving those presentsand paying heed to the wants and needs of others.

It is a time when most of us trim the family tree and festoon our homes and streets with colored lights and waving plastic Santas and eight tiny reindeer. Or display Christian scenes that depict a humble manger in Bethlehem.

Perhaps the season of tradition, its decorations and feelings of good cheer are so ingrained that we sometimes lose sight of other things that are equally important.

When Union Bridge officials gathered Oct. 10 to approve a contract for Christmas decorations for the town, they were, perhaps, blinded by those traditions.

Even thoughan overall budget for the decorations had been approved properly at an earlier meeting, the Town Council needed to give specific approvalfor the $7,857 contract.

Under Maryland's Open Meetings Law, public bodies are required to announce such meetings to the public and the news media who "regularly report" on town business.

"Approval ofcontracts is an activity which falls within the open meetings law," said Jack Schwartz, the state's chief authority on open meetings.

Town officials have pleaded haste or ignorance in explaining why theyfailed to comply with the law.

If the press were to do the same in a libel case, such an admission would be tantamount to an admissionof failure to do our jobs. In traffic court, the judge would politely suggest that you get out your wallet.

No one thinks Union Bridgeofficials meant to hide anything.

Perhaps they were blinded by the light of tradition.

But maybe 'tis the season to re-examine those traditions. As times change and the economy falters, townspeople may no longer have use for fine tortoise shell combs and platinum fob chains.

Bags of food, a new winter coat or help with the heating bill might be more welcome presents.

As populations change, so, too,do their religious convictions.

Private, non-government sponsoredChristmas celebrations are more personal and appropriate.

Civic-minded local businesses might be called upon to donate a town tree, orto supply some volunteer labor or simple decorations. Churches and civic clubs could provide volunteer carolers to fill the streets with the music of bright young voices.

Christmas is a season of warmth and family and giving and good cheer. Let's all enjoy it together.

And join in joyfully tearing away the wrapping.

What's your opinion? Write: Letters to the editor, The Carroll County Sun, 15 E. Main St., Westminster, 21157-5052.

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