Did the Chevy Chase Town Council
Violate the Open Meetings Law?
The Action Committee for Transit has questions as to how the Open Meetings Act might apply to recent activities of the Town Council of the Town of Chevy Chase, a Montgomery County municipality.
To what extent does the Act require meetings of the council and/or its members at which activities of the law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney were reported or discussed to be held in public?
At a public hearing I attended on January 8, Mayor Burda announced that the Town Council had retained the services of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney to assist the Town regarding a proposed light rail line. The decision to retain the law firm had not previously been disclosed to the public, and any meetings discussing this decision had not been public. Although the firm does provide legal advice, it also provides lobbying services to its clients. Based on the following, it appears that the firm is providing lobbying services to the Town of Chevy Chase:
Mayor Burda told the Washington Post in an article published on January 26, 2014 that “We’re not lobbying Congress.”
However, a lobbying disclosure form filed by Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney states that the firm was hired by The Town of Chevy Chase to lobby both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.
The lobbying disclosure is in accordance with a public statement made by one of the Town council members. At the January 8 public hearing, I heard Mr. John Bickerman, Town Councilmember, say that their strategy was to lobby Congress.
The Post article quotes Robert Shuster of the Buchanan firm writing that "I told [the Town of Chevy Chase] council and tell my clients prior to being retained, I do not and will not lobby my brother." We request your determination, among other issues, of whether this communication should have occurred in an open meeting because (1) It is not legal advice, and (2) Shuster waived any privilege there might be on May 3, 2013, by telling the Altoona Mirror that "I do not lobby my brother."
Ronit Aviva Dancis, Vice-President
Action Committee for Transit