Visiting Judge Sumner E. Walters gave 40,400 reasons why it is important for public officials to mind the state’s open meeting laws in a case last week in Putnam County. Let’s just hope elected officials are paying attention.
Walters awarded $40,400 in statutory damages and attorney fees to Jeremy Price, of Fort Jennings, after ruling the Putnam County Board of Elections violated the state’s open meetings law nine times in regards to notice requirements, and eight times for the purpose of executive session requirements.
Price alleged numerous Sunshine Law violations when the board fired its director, Virginia Price, and appointed her replacement.
Rules for executive sessions are spelled out clearly in Ohio’s open meeting laws.
Executive sessions can only be held at a regular or special meeting. A motion must be passed by a roll call vote. The motion must specify one or more of the statutory grounds for an executive session, although if the executive session is for a personnel issue, the name the individual involved does not have to be included in the motion.
While in executive session, public officials must stick to the subject which is the basis for the executive session. No formal action can be taken in the executive session. Specific individuals can be called in to an executive session.
Among the topics that can be discussed and the procedures that must be followed:
• Personnel matters (appointments, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, or compensation of public employees or officials; investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee or official).
• Purchase or sale of property.
• Conferences with an attorney concerning pending disputes or imminent court action. (A motion that merely mentions “litigation” as the basis for the executive session does not comply with the statute).
• Preparing for, conducting, or reviewing negotiations or bargaining sessions with public employees.
• Details relative to the security arrangements and emergency response protocols for a public body or public office, if disclosure would jeopardize security.
• No discipline of an elected official may take place in executive session. Discipline can be discussed, but the formal action must take place in an open meeting.
In the Putnam County case the board flaunted the law and now the taxpayers will get saddled with the bill.
Such a costly lesson is one easily avoided by responsible public servants.
Editorial: Message delivered on open meetings