Ohio’s Open Meeting Laws…Secret Ballots…and the public’s duty

For all Community Activists –  It is incumbent on all of us to understand the ‘rules of the game’…..Knowledge is power….

We were doing some research on the Ohio Open Meetings Act and discovered an Attorney General ruling on secret ballot voting in an open session.

It is all covered in the Attorney General’s ruling OAG 2011-038:  2011 Ohio Attorney General Ruling on Open Meetings and secret ballots OAG 2011-038

The finding of the Attorney General, Mike DeWine at the time,  was this:  “…we conclude that the Board may not vote in an open meeting by secret ballot”.

“The twin civic duties of overseeing governmental decision-making and holding public officials accountable for their decisions require that the governed
possess and enforce a right to know not only why decisions are made (open deliberations), but also the right to know the position and final vote of each individual
official. “The statute that exists to shed light on deliberations of public bodies cannot be interpreted in a manner which would result in the public being left in the
dark.” State ex reI. Cincinnati Post v. City of Cincinnati, 76 Ohio St. 3d at 544.

Voting by secret ballot thwarts openness and denies the public the ability to hold members of a public body accountable for their decisions, thereby impeding the
manifest intent and purpose of R.C. 121.22.”

There is further clarification on line 978 of Chapter 8 of the Ohio Open Meetings Act: Open Meetings Act line 978 secret ballot ruling

“…..finding that a vote by handwritten ballot, in open session, where the ballots identified each council member’s name with their respective vote and were made public record, was not a secret  vote..)

 

Here is another ruling that we all must keep in mind:

In the context of local governmental legislative proceedings the  right to know is deeply-rooted: “Our American democracy is partly founded on the premise that the public has a right, yea even a duty,
to oversee the decision-making procedures of those who have been chosen to govern. A public, not given the right of government oversight, is an uninformed public. With such action, the very integrity of the governing process is threatened. ” State ex reI. Plain Dealer Publishing Co. v. Barnes, 38 Ohio st. 3d 165, 169 (1988) (Douglas, J., concurring).
1988 Op. Att’y Gen. No. 88-087, at 2-419 (emphasis added by LFC).



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