By Denise Dick
If a majority of one public board attends a meeting of another board or commission, are those board members violating the Ohio Sunshine Law?
It’s an issue that’s come up between the city school board and the Youngstown City Schools Academic Distress Commission.
At a March 20 ADC meeting, six of the seven city school board members attended before commission Chairwoman Adrienne O’Neill and Atty. Michael Fisher from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office cautioned that as school board members, they may have been violating the state’s Open Meetings Law, commonly called the Sunshine Law, because of the number of members attending.
The law requires public bodies to conduct business in open meetings and defines a meeting as any prearranged gathering of a public body by a majority of its members to discuss public business.
To avoid a problem, board members Brenda Kimble, Ronald Shadd and Jerome Williams left. President Richard Atkinson and members Marcia Haire-Ellis and Jacqueline Adair remained.
At a school board meeting last week, the issue came up again as board members expressed concerns about wanting to keep abreast of the actions of the commission that oversees the academics of the school district.
Williams said he contacted the Ohio School Boards Association and was told there’s no problem with board members attending commission meetings. He couldn’t be reached later last week.
Atty. Ted Roberts, who represents the city school district, said he hasn’t been asked by board members for an opinion on the question.
“As long as the members of the public entity are attending someone else’s meeting and merely listening, it would not be a meeting, under Ohio Sunshine Law,” he said, adding that it’s something he would want to research if the board asked him for an opinion.
That might be different, however, if members of the public entity go beyond just listening and start interacting with the other board, he said.
Commission officials had suggested the board issue a meeting notice if more than three members plan to attend a commission meeting.
Shadd said board members need to know about the actions of the commission.
“I still believe we’re allowed to be there,” he said.
The district and the board have to keep informed about the changes or policies enacted by the commission, the board member said.
“We have to figure out where our jurisdiction lies as it relates to the meetings,” Shadd said.