People often complain that governments have hidden agendas.
Unfortunately, some Carroll County governments are very literally living up to that, if they have an agenda at all.
Take for example the City of Westminster's Common Council meeting Monday night, where the council approved the fiscal year 2008 budget.
The problem? Despite numerous attempts, we were unable to get an agenda for the meeting until about 3:45 p.m. Monday - just slightly more than 3 hours before the meeting.
It was only then that it came to light that the city planned to approve the fiscal year 2008 budget.
Needless to say, there probably were few average citizens who were aware of what the council was going to do at Monday night's meeting.
Passing the budget is, more often than not, the most important decision any governing body will make during the entire year. And for some reason, the Westminster Common Council didn't view this as important enough to let taxpayers know about it sooner than three hours before the meeting.
On the town's Web site, there was still no agenda posted Tuesday morning, just a notice that the May 26 meeting was canceled because of Memorial Day, and the next meeting was scheduled for June 9. There was no agenda for the meeting, and certainly no mention of the approval of the budget.
The state's Open Meetings Law doesn't require governments to post agendas of their meetings. But common sense would suggest you aren't going to get too many people to your meetings if you don't tell them what the meeting will cover. Posting agendas is just a basic part of good government, whether it is required or not.
The fact that the budget was approved without a public hearing is another matter altogether.
This is just the most recent and egregious example of governments not posting agendas for meetings within a reasonable time frame. Municipalities around the county routinely do not post agendas until the day of the meeting, if at all.
Another example is last week's quarterly mayors meeting with the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. No agenda was released until Tuesday - two days before the parties were scheduled to meet - and the meeting was postponed the next day.
How is it that a once-every-three-months meeting doesn't have an agenda until 48 hours prior? (In this case, the mayors and commissioners hadn't met in six months, because the December meeting was canceled so the parties could attend tree lightings.) And could it be that the involved parties weren't prepared for the topics on the agenda, hence the weeklong postponement?
These same government officials often state they want more involvement and better attendance from residents at these meetings. But if these boards aren't making residents aware of what will be taking place at the meetings, why would they bother to attend?
Not releasing agendas until hours before a meeting is not only a bad practice from that standpoint; it also raises serious concerns about these governments trying to hide something. Do they not want people attending meetings? Or is it just laziness?
If governments really want community involvement at their meetings, they absolutely must do a better job of informing people about what is going on. Releasing an agenda well in advance so people can decide whether the meeting is worth attending and giving them enough time to make plans to do so is the first and simplest step in the right direction.