Law is clear: Keep minutes from meetings
Ohio law is clear that full and accurate minutes of all meetings of public bodies must be maintained. The minutes must include enough facts and information to permit the public to understand and appreciate the rationale behind the public body’s decisions.
Further, those minutes must be made available promptly as a public record, and especially when anyone requests to review them. While the term “promptly” is open for interpretation, there can be little debate that requests dating back about two years do not meet the definition of “prompt.”
Former Youngstown Board of Education member Dario D. Hunter is suing the board on which he formerly served, alleging violations of the state’s open meetings law claiming no minutes of numerous board meetings dating back to June 2019 through March 30, 2021, have been made available. He wants the board to provide minutes of approximately 61 meetings held during that time period and to begin making records available after all future meetings.
His request for access to meeting minutes sounds reasonable.
This has been an ongoing problem with Youngstown City Schools, made apparent by board member Jackie Adair who brings attention to the lack of meeting minutes at the start of virtually every city board of education meeting. The board has questioned who is responsible, and in December 2019, members even demanded that the district’s CEO ensure the minutes are maintained.
We appreciate the ongoing concern expressed by Adair and the board’s action in 2019, but now, more than a year later, minutes still are not being maintained. At the end of the day, we call on the elected members of the city’s board of education to fulfill this responsibility.
Now, we would be remiss if we failed to point out that neither Ohio’s Open Meetings Act nor the state’s Public Records Act addresses the medium on which a public body must keep the official meeting minutes. That’s a decision any public body may make. Some public bodies document that choice by adopting a formal rule or by passing a resolution or motion at a meeting. Many public bodies make a contemporaneous audio recording of the meeting for backup in preparing written official minutes. In fact, Ohio’s Attorney General has opined previously that such a recording constitutes a public record that the public body must make available for inspection upon request.
Following Hunter’s lawsuit, some members of the Youngstown Board of Education told our reporter that such recordings of all meetings do exist. If that’s the case, it would behoove the board to pass a specific resolution indicating that medium is the chosen form of record for these meetings. Then the board of education should take action to ensure these recordings are easily accessible to the public, perhaps via the school district’s web- site. Many public bodies, including the Trumbull County Board of Commissioners, do just that. Also, the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners offers easy access to video recordings of its meetings through a link on the commissioners’ website.
Further, we are bothered significantly by comments from a board of education member criticizing Hunter for even making this request.
“He was on the board in 2019,” said board member Brenda Kimble. “He did not do anything about making the minutes available while he was on the board. … How has he been damaged by the written minutes not being available?”
Kimble also accused Hunter of just trying to cause trouble with his request.
The fact is that all citizens have a right to request and receive minutes of public meetings. Elected officials who serve on these boards are conducting public business by representing the taxpayers. The Youngstown Board of Education for years has been arguing for a return of local control. Getting its house in order will go a long way to strengthening that argument.
Further, accusing a resident of trying to cause trouble because he wants to see minutes of these public meetings is indefensible.
Youngstown’s board of education and all public bodies representing our residents must ensure meeting minutes are maintained and available for public inspection according to Ohio sunshine laws.
We must never forget these elected officials and public bodies work for and answer to members of the public. It’s not the other way around.