Did Vincent Gray break his campaign promise to keep D.C. Council meetings open?
Yesterday morning, WTOP reporter Mark Segraves went to a meeting of councilmembers in the John A. Wilson Building. Segraves entered the meeting room and sat down, but before the meeting got underway, Council Chairman Gray called Segraves into his office to tell him he wasn’t welcome.
Segraves says the ejection marks a breakdown in transparency for the city’s legislature. He, along with the Post‘s Colby King and others, successfully lobbied Gray’s predecessor, Linda Cropp, to open up the council “breakfast meetings” traditionally held immediately before monthly legislative meetings. Those gatherings were used in Cropp’s time to hash out contentious issues ahead of time in order to maintain comity during the public meeting; Cropp relented in April 2006 and opened the meetings. Gray had made a campaign promise to continue the open-door policy for breakfast meetings.
Now, the Tuesday meeting wasn’t a “breakfast meeting,” exactly. Rather, it’s known as an administrative meeting, where discussions are supposedly limited to matters of council operation. Segraves says he decided to attend Tuesday’s gathering after noting at the Jan. 6 breakfast meeting that Gray deferred several matters to the administrative meeting, such as the council’s inaugural plans.
Segraves says Gray told him he could not attend the meeting because personnel matters are discussed therein; Gray spokesperson Doxie McCoy tells LL that administrative meetings aren’t open as policy, and they never have been.
Allow LL to point out these pertinent facts: The admin meeting was held in the same room as breakfast meetings. At least nine councilmembers showed up. There was a printed agenda. And there was breakfast food, Segraves says—-not the usual full-on hot, catered meal that members get prior to legislative meetings, more of a continental spread, but food nonetheless.
LL notes that the pre-council-session breakfast meetings have been steadily becoming less and less substantive. In recent months, punctuality at the breakfast meetings has been steadily declining; trickle in, eat their breakfasts, and trickle out. Gray will meet privately with individual members in his adjoining office before typically gaveling the meeting to order less than a half-hour before the usual 10 a.m. legislative meeting start time. The subsequent breakfast discussions have been increasingly brief.
So that raises the question: Are substantive matters being transferred from breakfast meetings to administrative meetings to avoid public scrutiny? The decline in breakfast meeting substance and conflict, in LL’s view, has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in legislative meeting substance and conflict.
Says Segraves—-in a statement LL wholly endorses—-“In my world, the way I look at it, any time a majority of the council is meeting to discuss public business, that should qualify as an open meeting.”