Closed Session Slated for Police Budget Debate
At least some aspects of a debate over the police budget could be held behind closed doors during tonight's Hyattsville City Council meeting.
Budget season drags on for the Hyattsville City Council, which tonight is slated to consider approving next year's omnibus budget ordinance. Part of those deliberations could take place behind closed doors, as Mayor Marc Tartaro has proposed holding a closed session to discuss aspects of the police department budget.
At last week's meeting, a week after the council's self imposed budget deadline, the city council voted to table the measure to get more information on controversial changes to personnel counts in the Hyattsville City Police Department.
The dispute centered on a discrepancy between police personnel classifications called for in two different budget measures. In mid-April, the city council approved a police department budget which laid out a 32-person patrol division split between six sergeants, seven corporals and 19 privates.
However, the omnibus budget bill–which consolidates all previously approved department budgets, revenue expenditures and capital improvements under one measure–distributed to the city council at the end of April contains a different staffing layout. That measure calls for eight sergeants, three corporals, two acting corporals and 19 privates.
When objections to the changes were raised by Police Chief Doug Holland, as well as the Hyattsville Fraternal Order of Police and several council members, Tartaro proposed that the council discuss the issue behind closed doors.
Tartaro reasoned that debating the finer points of the matter behind closed doors was necessary and allowed under Maryland's Open Meetings Act because the dispute centers on the employee classification of two police officers.
But Maryland's Open Meetings Act provisions which allow closed sessions are "inapplicable to discussions of issues affecting classes of public employees," according to the state Attorney General's Open Meetings Act Manual. The closed session exceptions "only extends to discussions pertaining to specific personnel."
Hyattsville FOP Vice President Zach Nemser disagreed with Tartaro's push for a closed session.
"I feel like he uses those closed sessions like a crutch, where he can say whatever he wants to, and it doesn't get out to the public," said Nemser after last week's meeting. "To me, it's kind of a stretch that it's a personnel issue or a closed session issue. All we're talking about is are these numbers on the page. It's part of a budget. It wasn't a closed session issue this entire time, and now it is."
Tonight's meeting begins at 8 p.m. in the Hyattsville Municipal Building on Gallatin Street. It will be broadcast on Comcast channel 71 and Verizon channel 12.