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Another Closed Session for Council

Nearly 25 percent of the City Council's meeting time in 2011 was done behind closed doors.

The Hyattsville City Council is set to hold another closed session at tonight's meeting. Agenda item number 10, put forth by Mayor Marc Tartaro, asks to close the council meeting "to discuss personnel issues, proposed property acquisition, contract negotiations and to obtain legal advice from the City Attorney." 

The Hyattsville City Council uses closed sessions frequently. Almost a quarter of the City Council's meeting time was spent behind closed doors in 2011.

According to data from meeting minutes, the City Council convened 48 times in public hearings, regular sessions, work sessions and special sessions (the difference between the last three is largely academic in Hyattsville) for a total of 104 hours and 23 minutes last calendar year. Of that time, 78 hours and 45 minutes was spent in open session. The other 25 hours and 38 minutes was spent behind closed doors. The median duration of a City Council closed session in 2011 was 46 minutes. 

These durations do not include the time spent in one closed session held on Nov. 7 , for which information could not be found. 

More than half of all meetings held by the City Council in 2011 included a closed session, 26 out of 48. Only 21 meetings held in 2011 did not include a closed session. 

The most prevalent reasons for going into closed session are to discuss personnel matters, to receive legal advice and to discuss property aquisition. The City Council has a number of employment vacancies at the moment, and has been litigating at least three open Federal lawsuits filed against the city over the last year-and-a-half. 

In conversation, members of City Council such as Ward One Councilor Candace Hollingsworth and Ward Two Councilor Shani Warner say that the closely guarded topics discussed in closed sessions usually are discussed in open session at the following council meetings. Both encourage a close parsing of open council dialogue to get at the full scope of closed session discussions.

Maryland's Open Meetings law allows public bodies to hold closed sessions to discuss 14 topics, ranging from personnel issues to discussions about public safety like the deployment specifics of police and fire services, and to conduct investigations on criminal conduction, among others. 

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