Shutting out the public

Secrecy: Governor belatedly acts after commission avoids conducting its business in the open.

June 15, 1999

WHEN A state commission avoids conducting its activities in public, alarm bells should sound in the governor's suite. When that panel goes to great lengths to violate even the spirit of the state's Open Meetings Law, Gov. Parris N. Glendening should be seriously concerned.

Yet he has allowed the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs to mock the state's sunshine law and hide in the shadows of legal technicalities.

The commission doesn't want to discuss in public how or why it decided to recommend to the governor that the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy & Subtribes be recognized by the state as an Indian tribe. This recommendation is important because if the governor recognizes the PCCS as a tribe, it could eventually lead to casino gambling on tribal land.

A former housing secretary, worried about the panel's decision-making process, requested a written explanation 16 months ago. The panel has refused to release her letter. It tried to meet in private to draft a response.

When the response was finally submitted at a public session on June 7, the commission's chairman delivered the proposal in sealed envelopes to members, forbade any "substantive" discussion and then resorted to a sort of code to amend and approve the document.

That's unacceptable behavior. Yet it was tolerated by the governor's housing secretary, Raymond A. Skinner, and by an assistant attorney general.

Now, belatedly, the governor's office has told the housing secretary that the commission erred in conducting such a public charade.

The credibility of the commission has been seriously undermined by its refusal to release all documents and let discussions take place in the open. It gives the Glendening administration a black eye, and it puts the matter of tribal recognition under a cloud of suspicion.

A Glendening spokesman says the governor is "strongly supportive of open meetings." If so, he should put an end to any further foolishness by ordering every state agency and commission to conduct all the public's business in full view of the public.

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