Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a summit on the sediment at the Conowingo Dam at Darlington Fire Company on Tuesday.
The summit, which included state officials and elected officials, only lasted a bit more than a half hour. People who got into the meeting said the Governor announced that there will be a state-funded pilot program to see if the sediment can be turned into a viable product.
The strange thing was that this quickie summit was closed to both the public and the press.
The Cecil County Council announced the upcoming dam summit during their workshops. They only heard the details late last week.
The Cecil Guardian had no idea that the press would be banned from attending this meeting of public officials. The Open Meetings Act is set to help officials comply with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment mandate that the public has a right to meet and talk and the press has a right to ask for information.
After finding a seat in the firehall, I noted that one of the Governor’s key aides was looking in my direction and had called over a Governor’s staff guy. I was sort of wondering what was up but I took a brief respite in the restroom. As I returned to the meeting room, the Governor had started talking.The staff guy walked up to me and asked me to leave. I was snapping a photo with my phone camera and the Governor’s guy actually made a move with his hand to block the photo. Really? The Governor was sitting at a long table with his Secretaries. The assembled local and regional officials were seated at tables arranged in a horseshoe toward the Governor’s table. Wow, what a contraband shot I took.
The Governor’s guy and I went outside and I asked for an explanation as to why a public meeting would be closed. He said the Communications Director would be out to talk to me. I imagine I would still be waiting there for an explanation since no one came out to talk. Another evicted press person, Tim Wheeler from the “Bay Journal,” and I spent the time looking at the Governor’s helicopter and expressing our amazement at the lack of transparency orchestrated by some in the office of the Governor.
Cecil County officials were unaware that newspeople had been kicked out of the meeting and also wondered why. They assured me that nothing much was said in the brief meeting. I couldn’t help but wonder if I missed something, like a secret handshake. I also noted that with the County Council having a quorum at this meeting, it legally could not be closed without advance notification.
At an open session held at the fisherman’s park at the dam, I waited my turn and went up to the Governor and shook his hand and told him I did not know why I had been kicked out of the meeting. He said it should not have happened.
Let’s hope Governor Hogan backs up those sentiments by informing his staff that he believes in the transparency guaranteed by the First Amendment and that government summits, meetings, etc. should be open to the press and to the public.