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What’s ‘open’ isn’t a question



Published: Sun, September 2, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

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.


Comments

1RightofLeft(41 comments)posted 2 years ago

"Open meeting" is a wonderful and necessary concept and law. The public has a right to know what their elected officials are doing. However, the law apparently is a toothless wonder. It has no bite. Public officials flagrantly and consistently ignore the law. There have never been any consequences that I am aware of. The Attorney General gives lip service to the law, but has too many other "more important" items to deal with. So, it appears safe for politicians to simply ignore the law and do whatever they wish without fear of reprisal.

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2Ianacek(909 comments)posted 2 years ago

The "Sunshine Laws" ( Open records & Open Meetings ) have taken a new lease on life in recent years ; & many elected officials need to learn new habits .

It can seem harmless for elected representatives , especially if their party forms all or a majority on a Council , to believe they have a mandate that entitles them to agree positions at private party meetings to "save time" & dispense with discussion at the open Council meeting .

The same can apply where an agenda item indicates a conflict of interest for one councilperson . That person may recuse themselves at the meeting & not vote , but they shouldn't have confidential discussions with their colleagues before the meeting . The public has a right to know what factors have influenced someone's vote .

Elected officials are required to attend a training seminar on the Sunshine Laws in every term of their office . The Auditor of State checks that as part of each Annual financial statements audit .

http://www.auditor.state.oh.us/servic...

It would also help if Councils published their Agendas & Minutes on their websites at the same time as elected officials receive them .

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3PXGhost(51 comments)posted 2 years ago

@RightofLeft -
Please review this story:
http://www.vindy.com/news/2009/jan/10...

Actions can be taken to hold public officials accountable.

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4southsidedave(4780 comments)posted 2 years ago

This is because the people who are smart enough to get elected to high local office are only "smart enough" to understand the platform needed to get him or her elected to office...

...not how to actually operate a civic office on a day-to-day basis.

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