OTTAWA — If Putnam County has to pay attorney fees for a violation of Ohio’s public record and open meeting laws, county taxpayers could be out more than $600,000.
Commissioner John Love said Monday the county does not have insurance that would pay attorney fees in the lawsuit over the widening of Road 5.
“It would have to come out of the General Fund,” Love said.
Love said he and the other commissioners will talk to their attorney Thursday to find out what options they have or whether the ruling can be appealed.
The ruling by visiting Judge Dale Crawford issued $497,714, in separate amounts, to six attorneys. The judge also awarded the landowners a $113,661 judgment for attorney fees in the second case for the Patrick Brothers partnership, according to the judge’s ruling filed in Putnam County Common Pleas Court.
The lawsuit has been ongoing for four years. In 2014, the 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled commissioners violated Ohio’s Sunshine Laws relating to open records after filing a petition to appropriate 10 feet of land along both sides of an 11.2 mile stretch of Road 5 between Pandora and Leipsic in 2009.
Commissioners used eminent domain to expand the road from 20 to 24 feet but property owners were not given notice of the appropriation nor were they given a chance to object.
Crawford said in his ruling “it was clear to the Court that the Board of County Commissioners were not well-informed about Sunshine law matters. As a body and individually, the Commissioners made little effort to inform themselves of the Sunshine Laws and less effort to comply with them.”
The judge further wrote commissioners probably believed their conduct served the public policy of the county because of the fact they were not well informed.
“Ignorance appears to have been bliss with the Board,” the judge wrote.
There also will be a $23,609 judgment for costs in the case which commissioners agreed to pay.
Crawford also issued 13 public forfeitures at $500 each for a total of $6,500 for violations of the public records law. Those include failing to have a written rule setting a general policy for notice of meetings, forfeitures for a meeting five landowners did not receive notice, failing to keep full and accurate minutes, two identified improper purpose executive sessions in 2012, and for the lack of meeting minutes held with the prosecutor in 2012 and for another meeting in 2012 during which no minutes were taken, the judge wrote.
The lawsuit still is pending over compensation to landowners for property taken.
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.