PHILADELPHIA — A judge declined to stop the mayor from holding closed-door budget briefings with City Council even though two newspapers contend such sessions violate the state’s open-meeting law.
The owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News had sued to open the briefings, which their reporters had been barred from attending. But Common Pleas Court Judge Gary DiVito sided with the city Nov. 7 in a ruling based in part on technicalities.
The newspapers’ complaint listed Mayor Michael Nutter and Council President Anna C. Verna as defendants, but the state’s Sunshine Law — which requires most government meetings to be conducted in public — applies to agencies, not individuals, the judge wrote.
DiVito added that the need for relief was moot, because a Nov. 5 briefing had concluded by the time of his ruling. He also said that there was no evidence of any official action being taken at the meeting, so there was nothing for him to stop.
City Solicitor Shelley Smith previously wrote an opinion stating Nutter could meet privately with City Council members as long as they were not “deliberating or voting on agency business.”
Nutter, who campaigned on a promise of a more open and transparent government, had barred reporters from at least two previous briefings.
The day after last week’s closed-door session, Nutter announced sweeping budget cuts in a live TV address and transferred seven budget-related bills to the council.
A spokesman for the newspapers did not return a call for comment yesterday about whether the ruling would be appealed.