La Plata, MD – The measure seemed ill-fated at best, a bill aimed at prohibiting the disclosure of confidential information from closed sessions, especially coming from a county commissioner board which met weekly in closed session, often retreating into closed session during its meetings.

The proposed measure, being considered at public hearing Tuesday, Nov. 18, came from Commissioner Bobby Rucci, who said it was intended to help alleviate the leaking of items to the press that were discussed in closed session but intended to be kept private.

The unnumbered and unsponsored bill was vehemently opposed by all speakers, including one who noted, “Having a closed session merely to conceal conversations causes people to wonder what do you have to hide. If you want to subvert democracy you will vote for it.”

In the end the proposal was defeated by the very person who introduced it, but it made for spirited debate.

Jim Long of Accokeek said a close reading of the measure by which a commissioner could censure another commissioner was “a very vague standard.”

”You can’t be serious,” said Alex Winter of Bryans Road. “Is the problem in Charles County too much sunshine?” he asked.

“It’s just been standard operating procedure that when you want to get something done that’s not going to look good, the commissioners will take it private, behind closed doors and then you come out and everyone is on the same page,” he added. “There is already an open meeting law. This is absurd.

“It seems like some kind of mischief,” Winter said. “We need more sunshine not less. It seems to me that commissioners Davis and Collins, right now, you’re trying to keep the public from trying to find out how you used those public vehicles and you’re trying to keep people from trying to find out what’s going on in their own government.”

“People are always wondering, ‘why they are dancing around the open meetings law?’ ” Ken Hastings said. “This board has a legacy of doing things in secret and we have several examples: Waldorf Station and the Indian Head Tech Park. “Scrap this bill,” he urged.

“We try to get our residents to have confidence in their government,” said Elizabeth Brown of Waldorf. “Secrecy is not good. They want to know their elected officials are working on their behalf.”

After Commissioner Debra Davis moved to send the recommendation forward, a motion initially seconded by Rucci, but as the proposal moved into discussion, things became very interesting.

“Why are we going into closed session?” Rucci asked. “We don’t say we’re going into closed session unless our attorney recommends it. I could care less whether we go into closed session.”

Commissioner President Candice Quinn Kelly said there has always been a little confusion about the open meetings law, which she felt was intended to be a guide as to when and how leaders can move into closed session.

“We don’t regulate what individuals say,” she stated. “We have a right to go into closed session to discuss personnel matters, There’s very little you can do if somebody talks, but there have been a lot of breaches. Where they come from, nobody knows,” Kelly said.

“We claimed we cared about transparency and started public meetings and we were the first board to do that,” she added.

“I don’t care about this bill,” Rucci confessed. “I just want to know what we can do about this situation and I asked our attorneys what we could do and they drew up this document. I could care less if there’s an open session or a closed session. I withdraw my second. Let the new board bring it up.”

“We take an oath to represent all of the citizens,” argued Davis. “I take it very seriously. When we’re in a conference room and we need to discuss issues, we need to be able to freely discuss them without someone taking verbatim notes and going to the press. If we don’t do something we will not be able to conduct government business. We need to set the expectation.”

But Rucci, upon consideration, refused to budge.

“I think we should pass it down the road,” he said.

“We are not here to legislate each other,” Kelly said. “Do you really want this to be our last act?”

“I’d say bring it to the next board,” Rucci repeated. “It all started with me wanting to know, what is the procedure? I just need to know what the laws are and abide by them.”

“We’ve had a number of incidents where we did not know where the breach was,” Kelly said.

“In reality, there shouldn’t be a need for this type of legislation,” Commissioner Reuben Collins II pointed out.

The commissioners voted 3-2 against the measure, with Davis and Collins voting in favor, while Robinson, Kelly and Rucci voted against.

“I’m still for it,” Rucci said. “I’ve already talked to the new board. There’s got to be some kind of solution to this.”

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com