D.C. Council guts its own open-meetings law

Friday, December 24, 2010; 5:12 PM

NO DOUBT the D.C. Council is patting itself on the back for voting to overhaul the District's outmoded open-meetings law. It should do so, because no one else is likely to be offering congratulations. So flawed is its bill that local organizations dedicated to open government that had worked with the council on the reforms ended up opposing the measure.

On Tuesday the council gave unanimous final approval to legislation that rewrites the rules by which government boards and commissions meet. The bill's strong points are negated by loopholes that allow the council to write its own, separate rules; the bill exempts council committees from its provisions and excludes advisory neighborhood commissions. Even worse was the council's unfathomable refusal to give citizens the right to go to court to enforce compliance with the law's requirements. Instead, it vests sole authority with a government office, a situation that the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association likened to passing an employment discrimination or other civil rights law that could only be enforced by the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

The press association (of which The Post is a member) said that it knows of no other open-meetings law in the nation that deprives its citizens of the right to go to court to force compliance. It was this provision that caused the press association, along with the D.C. Open Government Coalition, to oppose a bill it had long sought. Another opponent was the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. None of that mattered to council members, who professed support for open government but proved unwilling to make it a reality.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company