ANNAPOLIS, FEB. 2 -- Contending that the Montgomery County Council has abused Maryland's open meetings law, a state senator from Montgomery is asking the General Assembly to bar local governments from considering political appointments in secret.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Howard A. Denis, is a response to complaints by civic activists and local journalists who are irate that the County Council has shut its doors several times during the last few months to debate appointments to boards and commissions.
The most recent incident occurred Dec. 1, when the council retired to executive session to discuss applicants for an opening on Montgomery's Board of Appeals.
"This is a glasnost bill," Denis said today at a Senate committee hearing on the measure, using the term for "openness" used by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. "I've come to the conclusion county governments throughout the state are flagrantly violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the open meetings law," he said.
"There is an arrogance of power on the part of the County Council," he said afterwards, noting that the council held 45 closed sessions last year, although not all of them involved appointments. "They have come to think there is really no way for them to be held accountable."
The state Senate, which confirms gubernatorial appointments "has no problem considering them in open session," he said.
State law allows government bodies to meet privately to consider personnel items, including appointments.
Ricki Wadsworth, executive director of Maryland's chapter of Common Cause, said the consumer advocacy group supports the measure. The bill was opposed today by the Montgomery county government, along with the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League.
Tom Stone, Montgomery's chief lobbyist, told legislators the county government opposes the bill because it would not prevent all private discussions of appointees.
Stone would not say whether the county opposed the idea on its merits, although he agreed to suggest ways to close what he said were the bill's loopholes.
County Council Chairman Michael L. Subin said in an interview that he believed the council, to attract applicants for volunteer jobs on local boards, needed the ability to have frank, private conversations about candidates.
"I do not see what is to be gained by making negative statements about people in public who have gone to the time and trouble of offering their services to the county," Subin said. "It is just decency."