The Metro board of directors has had at least four closed-door meetings this month that would have violated laws had they been held by some of the members' own jurisdictions. And one gathering appears to have violated the board's own rules.
Open meetings laws
|* D.C. and Maryland laws do not specify how much notice is required to be given before a public body holds a meeting. But Virginia law requires notice to be posted at least three working days before the meeting. The location must be included.|
|* Metro's rules require the board to give notice in advance of its meetings, even if called for in an emergency situation by "using the best available method."|
|* Under Virginia law, meetings can be closed only after board members vote in open session to close the meeting. At the end of the closed meeting, the public body must reconvene in an open session.|
|* Under Maryland law, the chairman of the body must "conduct a recorded vote on the closing of the session," then a majority must agree to hold the meeting behind closed doors.|
The 14-member board had been trying to pick a permanent general manager and has agreed on keeping interim General Manager Richard Sarles as chief executive officer and general manager.
Board members interviewed Sarles and two other candidates for the role behind closed doors on Jan. 15. Then they held additional "executive sessions" to discuss a "personnel issue" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at 10 a.m. the next day and 4:30 p.m. Friday, according to the board's Web site.
Personnel discussions are allowed to be held behind closed doors under Maryland, D.C. and Virginia open-meetings laws. However, those laws have requirements of how public bodies can meet -- requirements that were not followed.
Specifically, public bodies must notify the public before the meeting of the time and location. Virginia laws also require boards to hold an open meeting before they can close the doors.
Although Metro has members representing those jurisdictions, the agency has said their local laws do not apply to the transit agency. Instead, it has its own rules.
Metro's Web site included notices about the Wednesday and Thursday meetings, though no mention of any open sessions. Notification of Friday's meeting was posted within hours of its start. But the Web site makes no mention of the Jan. 15 interviews, though the board is supposed to give public notice before even any "emergency sessions."
Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the board did not hold an executive session on the day of the interviews. She did not respond to requests on what the interviews were, though.
And none of the notices showed a location of where the meetings were. Farbstein later said at least two of the executive sessions occurred via conference call.
Board Chairman Peter Benjamin did not return a call for comment.
Transit advocate Dennis Jaffe said such actions feed into public cynicism when the agency needs support. "There really is not a reason not to let the public know that it is meeting," he said. "For the agency to have the highest level of public confidence in how it operates, it ought to be open on when it is going to meet and the subject matter on which it is meeting."