Commissioners claim an open policy, but much happens behind closed doors

March 23, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll's commissioners barred the public from meetings last week where they discussed:

* Whether to send the Board of Education an invitation to a dinner honoring Westminster magician Raymond M. Corbin, called Ray-Mond, and whether to appoint Mr. Corbin an "international ambassador of good will from Carroll County."

* Whether to squeeze portable units that will house the county health department onto the grounds of the Carroll Community College Business and Industry Training Center at 300 S. Center St., Westminster. Initial discussions focused on a site behind the Carroll County Education Center at 495 S. Center St.

* Whether to pick up a $15-per-person tab for 30 Industrial Development Authority and Economic Development Commission members to attend the annual Industrial and Enterprise Awards Dinner.

* A refresher briefing on why the county advertised for computer bids in January.

The commissioners also conducted private sessions that involved industrial prospects and personnel issues that affect individual county employees, subjects specifically exempted from Maryland's open meetings law.

County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. said the commissioners have the legal authority to close all meetings with county department heads because the commissioners act as both the county's executive and legislative body, unlike home rule counties where the legislative and executive are usually separate. The closed sessions last week were meetings with department heads.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy said that despite the law, their operating guideline is to favor open rather than closed meetings.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge did not return telephone calls Monday or yesterday.

Mr. Lippy said the commissioners agreed by consensus not to send the Board of Education an invitation to the April 8 dinner honoring Mr. Corbin, although board members will be welcome to attend.

Mr. Lippy also said the dinner and the ambassadorial appointment are partly to make amends for the magician being barred from the 1993 Halloween costume contest and magic show at Westminster High School.

County school officials said Mr. Corbin violated school rules by using a lighted cigarette in his 1992 Halloween show performance.

The commissioners see potential cost savings in placing portable units to house the health department at the community college training center.

The department is scheduled to move into portables donated to the county by Martin Marietta. Carroll County General Hospital plans to acquire the adjacent health department building from the county.

No decision has been made, although Mr. Lippy said he favors the training center site. Water and sewer extension is expected to be cheaper at the training center than at the education center.

The commissioners decided to buy tickets for IDA and EDC members at the annual dinner, which recognizes resident industries for such economic development achievements as expansion, additional personnel or capital investment.

Mr. Dell said the meeting may have been closed because the public will criticize the commissioners for spending government money to allow representatives to attend.

"If we take a client to dinner and it gets in the paper, someone's going to make a fuss about it," Mr. Dell said.

Mr. Lippy said the commissioners also discussed recipients of the industrial awards to be certain the awards are given fairly.

Steven D. Powell, the county's management and budget director, said the computer briefing was to explain to the commissioners that the bids for desktop and laptop computers were advertised in January to take advantage of low prices. The bids ordinarily would be sought in July or August, he said.

Mr. Lippy said he wasn't sure why the bids were not discussed in open session.

The commissioners approved awarding the computer contracts March 10, according to county purchasing staff members.

Mr. Dell said he doesn't question staff decisions to schedule meetings as open or closed to the public.

Robert "Max" Bair, executive assistant to the commissioners, was reported on vacation this week and was unavailable for comment.

Grace Devereux, the secretary who schedules the meetings, said department heads who want the public barred from their sessions with the commissioners are required to get clearance in advance from the county attorney's office.

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