Lack of quorum thwarts plan for closed meeting

Indian Affairs panel forced to cancel session on recognition of tribe

April 14, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs canceled a planned closed meeting last night after not enough of its members showed up to discuss a state tribe's petition for official recognition.

Chairman Leland A. McGee said "there's a remote possibility" that he might call another special meeting before the panel's next regularly scheduled meeting on May 3.

The panel had scheduled last night's special meeting to decide how to answer questions that former state Housing Secretary Patricia J. Payne had raised about its recommendation that the state recognize the tribe.

Housing Department officials have held up action on the Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes (PCCS) petition until the commission addresses the questions. Gov. Parris N. Glendening will make the final decision on recognition.

The commission has nine members and needed five present to conduct business. Only four showed up last night.

The commission's plans to meet privately on the tribal recognition issue drew protests from The Sun and went against the wishes of two tribal groups and others who have an interest in the recognition issue.

Asked if he anticipated that the next meeting would be closed, McGee responded, "We will always meet in open session and debate at that time if a closed session is necessary."

The commission has given various reasons for needing to meet in private.

At a public meeting April 5, most of the panel's discussion focused on Payne's letter. McGee said he saw no way to address the questions she raised without revealing the letter's contents, which he said would be illegal.

In scheduling last night's meeting, McGee said, "This special session will be in executive session to further discuss the response to Secretary Payne's letter in regards to the petition of the PCCS."

The official, written notice for the meeting gave different reasons for wanting to meet in closed session than were offered last week. The notice said the purpose for the special session was "to discuss with [the commission's] attorneys the legal ramifications of the various alternatives for response" to Payne's inquiry.

The notice also said the commission might need to discuss sociological information -- such as family histories and genealogical information -- which the panel is prohibited by law from disclosing.

In a letter to Glendening yesterday, a Sun attorney asked the governor to intervene in the dispute over the closed-door meeting and the refusal of state housing officials to release Payne's letter.

Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Glendening, said the governor will not get involved.

"We're referring all questions to housing secretary [Raymond A. Skinner] because this matter will ultimately come before the governor for some action or decision," Feldmann said. "It would be inappropriate for him to comment at this point."

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