Meetings statute violation is alleged

Member of CA board files complaint with state against panel advising county police


A Columbia Association board member has filed a complaint with the state alleging that a panel of citizens that advises Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay in secret every month is violating Maryland's open-meetings law.

Phil Marcus, 63, who represents Kings Contrivance village, said that he mailed the complaint last week after a Sun article raised doubts about whether the 15-year-old council is meeting the stricter open-meetings rules that the General Assembly passed last year.

Marcus called it "ironic" that, since he mailed the complaint, the Columbia Association itself has been criticized for holding a hastily called meeting, of which the board did not notify the public or the media.

"We're not perfect as a board either," Marcus said. "Frankly, I felt uncomfortable during that meeting for the same reasons that I'm uncomfortable with what the police chief is doing."

A spokeswoman for Livesay said that he could not comment on the matter until the three-member Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled on it. The board's rulings are advisory, but a loss there would make the department vulnerable to a lawsuit if it did not adjust its practices.

The 23-member council advises the chief on issues ranging from the department's annual budget to its racial profiling policy.

The council's chairman, Herb Watchinski Jr. of Columbia, said that the complaint is unjustified - the council's meetings are open and its members democratically elected, not appointed.

"The bylaws don't close the meetings, but the chief and the chairman must approve any guests," said Watchinski, who also is the council's founding chairman. "The council selects its own members, but the chief has to have the ability to say `thank you and goodbye' to anyone who is clearly misbehaving."

The county has 30 days to respond to Marcus' complaint.

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