Steve Shimko makes several compelling points in his opinion piece about the Talbot Council and its rush to craft a resolution to oppose certain legislation, a rush that resulted in violations of the Open Meetings Act.
Shimko related a tired comment from an unnamed council member, that "this issue has cost the county money and that, since county dollars come from its taxpayers, it is really the taxpayers of Talbot County that will have to pay these expenses."
Reading between the lines, this councilman was hinting that citizens should think twice about holding county officials responsible and calling them out when questionable actions take place, because it costs money to answer or fight the charges. Remember, in this case, it was a violation of Maryland’s open meetings statutes.
If money is ever wasted through an Open Meetings Act complaint, it is invariably wasted by the public body, not the public. The law does not require an attorney to respond to an open meetings complaint. One of the council members can do it at no additional cost to taxpayers. Or the council can delegate it to, say, a local public figure or a volunteer. It can opt not to respond (itself a violation of the law).
In this situation, this is taxpayer money the council — not the public — decided to pay its hired attorney. If the gentleman was already on the payroll, then no money was actually wasted. In many cases, however, public bodies decide to spend several thousand dollars on a lawyer's hourly charges.
Mr. O'Donnell is a longtime advocate for open governance.