Prince George's, Md., Officials Hold Short-Notice Meeting on Aid Cuts

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson met with members of the County Council on Thursday morning to discuss more than $22 million in state funding cuts, but officials gave relatively little advance public notice of the meeting.

A brief statement released by Johnson's office afterward said the situation was discussed "during a public meeting" and that "cost containment measures and the layoffs of county employees" were being considered. Johnson (D) "will announce" next week how the cuts will be dealt with, the statement said.

People who attended said no one from the general public was present at the 20-minute session, which was held about 9:30 a.m. in a conference room on the fifth floor of the county administration building -- Johnson's floor. Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said that Johnson called for the meeting Wednesday night and that the clerk's office posted a meeting notice on a board in the administration building sometime after 10 p.m., as the council finished up a late session.

Vince Canales, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police and a vocal critic of the county's budget practices, said he and other union heads would have attended the session had they known about it.

"That's ridiculous," Canales said of the idea that the meeting was public. "Yet again, [the county has an] inability to be transparent on something of this magnitude that affects every county citizen and every county employee. I don't know how you conduct the county's business behind closed doors."

Johnson's spokesman, James P. Keary, said he did not know whether Johnson or the council called for the meeting, which was attended by Johnson, six council members and staff. Keary also said he alerted building security of the meeting and advised them to allow inside any members of the public who wished to attend.

Council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) declined to discuss specific proposals from the meeting, saying it would be inappropriate because they are not finalized.

Campbell said she learned of the meeting Thursday, after the fact, and would have e-mailed a notice to the media had she known earlier.

"It wasn't our meeting," Campbell said. "The council is committed to transparency in government."

The session is reminiscent of a closed-door session Johnson held with state lawmakers and council members in November to inform them of a projected $70 million budget shortfall. In that instance, a reporter was barred from the meeting, and officials who did attend later declined to discuss it on the record.

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