Sunshine Laws 2015
There really isn’t much to the Open Meeting laws in Ohio, it’s all common sense and easy to comply with the rules. Give the public plenty of notice about the date and location of meetings. Send out an agenda that is detailed enough to cover the specific topics to be discussed. Let people know if an executive session will be held, and the topic (but not a list of all possible topics).
As I have documented in the past here on this blog, the Grandview school board does a terrible job with following the open meeting laws, both in the letter of the law and the spirit. A few people have noticed that the board has been particularly bad in the past few months. I decided it is time once again to make a list of failures by the school board.
Board taking big steps in morning meetings with no community involvement
The school board has sometimes scheduled morning meetings in the past, normally these are urgent business meetings that are short and have a limited topic. Recently the board has taken to holding long morning meetings, with multiple important topics. The records of these meetings show that no parent or press is present while important subjects are discussed.
Special Meeting May 13, 2015, (a Wednesday) brought to order at 8:40 AM and adjourned at 12:30 PM (more than 4 hours). The meeting notes show that 6 major items were under discussion, including important statements like the following –
“80-‐90 years ago the people of Grandview invested in school buildings and infrastructure; it’s our turn now.”
There was much discussion of levy money for Permanent Improvements, and adding new PI and operation levies. The full agenda for the meeting (sent out on 5/12/15) was the following:
a. Work session regarding K-12 facilities
b. Any other business that may come before the Board
Nothing in the agenda mentions the possibility of board discussion on new levies. The agenda was sent out less than 24 hours before the meeting, in violation of the open meeting laws on notification.
Special Meeting May 28, 2015 , started at 7:30 AM and closed at 10:07. There were three motions voted on, and an executive session. By this point in the meeting, two board members had left the meeting. There was then a full page of voting on personnel, followed by a second executive session!
There were five items on the agenda, including the board favorite, “Any other business that may come before the Board”.
Special Meeting May 6, 2015, this was not a morning meeting (starting at 5 PM), but it again had no parent or member of the press present, and the meeting lasted 4 hours. The meeting notes mentions four general single line topics with no detail of the meeting contents.
The agenda has one topic, an executive session, and the standard “any other business”.
Executive sessions have rules too
The board has a list of topics they may discuss in executive session, and has the ability to keep that discussion private, but they should be listing the specific reason for the session before each meeting. From the 2015 Open meeting laws:
“A motion to adjourn into executive session must specify which of the particular personnel matter(s) listed in the statute the movant proposes to discuss. A motion “to discuss personnel matters” is not sufficiently specific and does not comply with the statute. 963 “
The board almost never complies with the rules for stating the reason for entering the executive session, in agendas the simple “an executive session” is listed, and the meeting notes normally have no listing of specific topics discussed in the session.
There are no rules when the board leaves town
I have twice posted the violations of open meeting laws the board ignores when they leave town on their “retreat”, held outside the area the rules say public meetings should be held, often in non-public buildings with no access for those with disabilities. I had hope that with Ms Brennan as the new president of the board she might try a little harder to comply, but again they took the meeting 40 miles outside the city, and refused a direct request to record the meeting.
I think the board’s attitude to the open meeting laws are best represented by the response I got from then president Douglass, when I asked, “how could the board legally have an executive session when the agenda published before the meeting didn’t give notice of a session?”
His complete reply was this –
Mr. Wagner, The simple answer is “b. other matters that may come before the Board.” Grant Douglass
The rules for executive sessions have a number of requirements, but springing a surprise session hidden in a “other matters” line on the agenda is not following the rules, or the spirit, of the open meeting laws.
I don’t even know why the board bothers with the slim agendas for the special meetings. They should just have one sentence. “Any business”. Apparently it is all they think the board needs to give the parents of Grandview. They certainly are not thinking about following the Ohio Open Meeting rules.