Washington, D.C., City Councilmember Muriel Bowser, with support from nine of her colleagues, introduced a bill March 16 to replace the city’s outdated open meetings statute. SPJ’s D.C. Pro chapter and the D.C. Open Government Coalition assisted Bowser’s staff in drafting the bill.
The measure requires the City Council and executive branch bodies made up of elected or appointed officials to conduct most business in public, and to give the public advance notice of meeting times and agendas. It would permit secret sessions to discuss such issues as personnel matters, contract negotiations, academic testing and awards, and anti-terrorism measures. Exemptions likely to spark controversy would permit agencies to deliberate secretly when performing quasi-judicial functions and when would permit secret retreats and training sessions.
But, even as written, the bill represents an improvement over the current two-paragraph statute, which has been interpreted to permit virtually any government business to be discussed in secret, so long as the public body returns to open session for a final vote. In 2009 the City Council conducted most of its budget deliberations in secret, drawing complaints from civic groups.