What’s ‘open’ isn’t a question
One of the great mysteries of life — at least from the viewpoint of a reporter or editor — is how people who are smart enough to get elected to high local office can’t seem to comprehend the simple legal concept of open meetings.
The idea shouldn’t be difficult to grasp, and it’s nothing new. Since 1975, Ohio law has defined a meeting as “any prearranged discussion of public business by a majority of the members of the public body.”
And since the first guidelines to a then-new law were published by Attorney General William J. Brown in November 1975, every attorney general’s handbook on public meetings has pointed out that ORC 121.22, which defines the possible exceptions to public meetings, reads: “This section shall be liberally construed to require public officials to take official action and to conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings unless the subject matter is specifically excepted by law.” Note the clear language: shall be liberally construed. Not could be, but shall be. Not construed to the convenience of the officeholder, but liberally construed toward openness.
Still, there are surprises
And yet, last week a Vindicator reporter, Ed Runyan, happened upon all three Trumbull County commissioners holding an unannounced meeting with consultants and representatives of the Western Reserve Port Authority to discuss the possible creation of a Transportation Improvement District.
The participation of Trumbull and Mahoning counties in creation of an entity that would seek hundreds of thousands of state dollars for development of railroad lines is obviously a matter of public interest.
Men and women entrusted with running our government institutions ought to be trusted to understand that the law — with a few clear exceptions — requires them to operate in the open.