Law director says council didn’t violate state law
By David Skolnick
City council didn’t violate the state’s open-meeting law when it met behind closed doors with the Cardinal Mooney High School board of directors, city Law Director Anthony Farris contends.
The state’s “Sunshine Law” requires meetings of at least a majority of city council members to be open to the public.
But Farris said a majority of council attending “does not inevitably make a gathering at which they appear [to be] a ‘meeting.’”
Under state law, a meeting is defined as a “pre-arranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members,” said Farris, who was at Mooney on Monday.
Farris acknowledged the meeting was prearranged.
But “the public business of Youngstown City Council is legislation,” he said. “The council members were not there to deliberate or discuss legislation.”
The “interaction” with Mooney wasn’t a meeting “as defined by” state law, Farris said.
“I hate to see this turn into a major issue,” he said. “I didn’t know it was an issue until we received a note [during the discussion from the media] with a question on whether it was supposed to be open. I don’t think I was wrong. I understand it would be upsetting to those in the media” that it would be closed.
Six of city council’s seven members, along with city officials, met privately with Mooney board members.
Mooney, on the city’s South Side since 1956, may be moving, though no decision has been made.
A study commissioned by the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown compared moving the school to a new location versus renovating and updating the existing structure.
The city wants the board to keep Mooney where it is. Bishop George Murry will make the final decision, expected by the end of the school year.
Upgrading the existing building is estimated to cost $18 million while a new school is estimated to cost $24 million to $25 million.
Also, the Catholic school is seeing an increase in the number of students it has from southern Mahoning County and Columbiana County.