Officials plan appeal of ruling

LISBON -- Columbiana County commissioners say they intend to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court a lower court's decision affecting laid-off county jail employees.
Commissioners agreed Wednesday to contest the May 11 ruling of the 7th District Court of Appeals. Joining commissioners in the appeal will be Sheriff Dave Smith.
Court's decision: At issue is the 7th District's decision to uphold an arbitrator's 1997 award that ordered reinstatement with back pay of 42 county jail employees laid off in February 1997.
The employees argued the furloughs violated their labor contract. County officials have denied this and pointed out there are no longer any county jail jobs to which the workers can be reinstated. The county privatized its lockup in 1998.
Commissioners said the deadline for filing the appeal is Monday. They also stated that they are willing to discuss an out-of-court settlement.
Also on agenda: In other matters, commissioners insisted they properly entered into a closed-door meeting with Eileen Dray-Bardon, director of the county job and family services department.
The closed-door session was governed by Ohio's Open Meetings Act, which states that public bodies can meet in private only for specific reasons and only after following a specific procedure.
The motion to enter into the private meeting stated that it was to discuss personnel, specifically "employee performance and working conditions."
State law, however, allows private meetings for personnel only when the motion to do so specifies that the session will fall under certain personnel categories, including disciplinary action, compensation and dismissal.
Employee performance and working conditions are not among the personnel categories specified in the Open Meetings Act.
Explanation: When asked to explain the discrepancy, commissioners said they had consulted with Andrew Beech, assistant county prosecutor, about the meeting.
Beech advised commissioners to use the "employee performance and working conditions" language in making the motion to meet privately with Dray-Bardon, Commissioner Jim Hoppel said.
Beech was unavailable to comment.
Commissioners took no action after emerging from the private meeting, which they described, without elaborating, as dealing with a matter that eventually could lead to employee discipline.
Decisions that result from discussion during sessions that violate the Open Meetings Act can later be declared invalid, according to information provided by the Ohio attorney general's office.

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