City Paper is not for tourists
On Tuesday, the D.C. Council finally brought its regular pre-legislative session “breakfast meetings” into the sunshine. After almost two years of harassment from some persistent city hall reporters, Council Chairman Linda Cropp invited the press in on April 4 for a look at the previously-closed get-togethers.
Probably the peskiest critic of the closed breakfasts has been WTOP radio’s Mark Segraves, who has repeatedly pushed Cropp to open up the meeting, where councilmembers have been known to hash out their differences outside of the public spotlight. Segraves is well-known for his speeches about how the breakfasts violate the spirit of the District’s 1973 Sunshine Act, which requires all meetings of the council to be open to the public when any official action is taken.
But when the door finally opened, and the smell of coffee and ham drew the press into the conference room for the first time, Segraves wasn’t around. No one on Cropp’s staff had informed him of the chairman’s policy change. Segraves learned about the breakfast meeting just in time to race over the Wilson Building, pop into the room and hear Cropp announce that the meeting was over.
His absence was notable considering how rabid Segraves has been on the open-meeting front. Before one council breakfast in 2004, Segraves and Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King planted themselves next to the bacon and eggs in the Chairman’s conference room until Cropp ordered them to leave. Segraves repeated that act once during the baseball debate and found frequent opportunities to harangue Cropp—and some of his more laid-back media colleagues—on the issue.
Most reporters learned about the new openness policy via a March 29 Post article on page 2 of the Metro section. The Post also ran an April 4 editorial on the matter. “I don’t read the Post cover to cover every day,” says Segraves, who figures his years of lobbying warranted a heads-up. “If a policy changes that effects the entire press corps, everyone should have been informed, not just the Washington Post.”
The oversight appears a little too convenient for Segraves. “Everybody in that building knows that I was the most active reporter, along with Colby King, for getting that meeting open,” he says. “I kept the fight going.”
Segraves says he contacted Cropp spokesperson Mark Johnson a few weeks back about persistent rumors that the breakfast would be opened to the press: “He said he’d let me know if anything changed. He didn’t do that.”
Johnson says he didn’t slight Segraves. “No one got called specifically about this,” he says. The Post story about the open meeting, he says, flowed from a reporter’s inquiry, not a cold call from Cropp’s office. Given Segraves’ interest in the story, Johnson says, the reporter should have been more proactive in following it up: “He’d heard this was a possibility so he knew to be on the look out for it.”
Says Segraves: “Mark Johnson doesn’t do a very good job of doing his job. It’s his job to tell the media what’s going on.”