State Sen. Shannon Jones has the right idea when it comes to the Ohio Open Meetings Act. The Springboro Republican has introduced a bill in the state Senate that would open more meetings among public officials to public scrutiny. She believes that it is better to err on the side of keeping citizens fully informed.
What Jones has in mind is a sensible expansion of the current law on open meetings, which says the decision-making body of a public organization must take action or hold discussions related to the publicís business during a scheduled meeting that is open to citizens. Under her bill, unscheduled meetings of a majority of a public bodyís members would be open if public business is discussed, even if a meeting is to gather information.
The Jones proposal also would tweak language on executive sessions, requiring more details to be included in the public motions that must be approved before a closed-door session may be held to discuss items such as personnel matters, pending lawsuits and buying property.
That change is worthy, too, preventing abuses by officials seeking to avoid controversy or hide embarrassing mistakes. In Greene County, a judge recently ruled that a now-defunct children services board committed 30 violations of the open meetings law during a series of meetings that led up to the termination of its executive director.
Larry Long, the executive director of the County Commissionersí Association of Ohio, has raised objections, arguing the Jones bill worries members who fear two commissioners could violate the law by inadvertently attending the same community event. The publicís right to know easily trumps such concerns. Commissioners can avoid trouble by not discussing public business.
Vigilance long has been necessary to make sure the stateís open meetings and open records laws are carefully followed, an effort essential to the functioning of a democracy. At times, even well-intentioned officials can forget that they are working for the public, which has a right to know what is being discussed and done in its name.