Not to be outdone in taking the board meeting far from the city, new president Brannan went 40 miles away for the board’s annual retreat. At this rate, the board will be in Atlantic City in a few years. Despite multiple requests to take the small effort to be transparent and record the meetings for those of us who had to work and couldn’t make the trek out with the board, the public was again shut out.
Why can’t the board record the retreat meeting, the same as it records all meetings held in the school? It’s not a technology problem, all members carry cell phones, all they have to do is open the recording app and hit a button. According to the president and the superintendent, the “Groundhog rule” (from the movie) is in effect – that’s the way they have always done retreat meetings, and they are locked into never changing their ways.
Here we go again
I was waiting for the annual retreat meeting to be announced in February, generally the month both the school and the city council hold their planning meetings. Last week I got an email from the school agenda mailing list that said a “working session meeting” would be held at the Dawes Arboretum, 40 miles outside of the city. Was this the retreat, being disguised with different wording? Yes, an email to Brannan confirmed it, this was a last minute announcement of the retreat.
A slightly different feature of the agenda this year, it said “there will be no votes taken at the meeting” Why use this unique wording? Anyone who correctly challenged the legality of a board meeting held so far outside of the city could use the courts to nullify the votes taken at meeting that broke the Open Meeting laws. The board had preemptively acted to stop this sort of challenge by removing votes from the agenda. They knew full well they were breaking the rules, and made sure they wouldn’t have to pay for that violation.
I was unable to change my work schedule at the last minute to attend the board meeting, so I asked both Mrs. Brannan and Mr. Culp if they could record the meeting for me. The board normally has an audio recording of meetings, and they are free to the public on request.
The board refused to record the meeting, Mrs Brannan said “We have never recorded board retreats and don’t plan to this year.” Culp said “ …(the board) has not ever recorded them and I do not believe this is going to change.” The Groundhog rule is in effect.
I feel like I’m stuck in a Groundhog loop also, again explaining why the board is wrong in taking its meetings outside the city.
Why are there rules for public meetings?
Private businesses take retreat meeting all the time, why is it different for public bodies? All of the stakeholders are present in a private retreat meeting. Public bodies have the public as the most important part of the stakeholders, and when they take meetings far from the home jurisdictions, they make it too hard for the public to take part.
Ohio made rules for public meetings, a summary is published in the Yellow Book. The three most important rules for meeting locations are these:
The meeting should be in a public building.
The meeting should be inside the jurisdiction of the public body.
The building should be ADA compliant.
That last rule is federal, but applies to all public meetings. The meeting space at the Dawes Arboretum might be in a public building, and it might be ADA compliant (the Dawes website doesn’t say). The location is unquestionably 40 miles outside the jurisdiction of the school board, double the distance to the cabin in the woods favored by Grant Douglass.
What does the City Council do for a retreat?
The city had it’s 2014 retreat at the Dawson building, 1114 Dublin Road (the 2015 retreat has not been held). The year before at an office on Grandview avenue. The city has the same multi-hour meetings to do long range planning, but they always have the door open to members of the community, quite often there is a reporter present from the newspapers, and they don’t leave the city. The buildings they hold the meetings in are ADA compliant. I asked a former city council member why they never held meetings in a vacation destination like a cabin somewhere. He said that the Mayor has made it very clear – the laws say to stay inside the city, in a public building, and the city council must follow the laws.
Following the rules isn’t hard
I’m not asking for much from the school board. Send out an agenda that is detailed and complete. Stick to that agenda in the meetings, don’t hold surprise executive sessions. Hold the board meetings inside the city of Grandview, in a public building that is ADA compliant. Apparently this current board has trouble following these simple rules. In the past, the board has not had any issues following the Open Meeting laws. I don’t know why this group thinks they are special flowers who need to run off to the woods.