Open Meetings Act Violations…can be expensive

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Published Saturday, September 14, 2019

We have become aware of ongoing litigation in Lake County involving a citizen who alleges that he was ejected from a public meeting regarding the Lake County Visitors’ Bureau and Jerry Cirino, currently making noises about his interest in assuming a seat in the Ohio State Senate. The litigation has been filed pro se, without an attorney, and has been assigned to the Lake County courtroom of Judge Eugene Lucci. We remain enchanted and tenaciously interested in the unfolding events and eventual outcome.

In the meantime there have been a rash of legal actions filed in Clermont County in the Cincinnati area that have been settled with respectable cash awards going to victims of illegal actions on the part of public officials at public meetings, from local government to school boards.

For those in Geauga County, including this writer, who have experienced violations of the Open Meetings Act perpetrated by those in power who hope to silence public opinion with acts of intimidation,, we urge both readers and perpetrators to read carefully the content of this Ohio law. Violations of the Open Meetings Law are getting to be pricey for those who think they are above the law.

One of the chief champions for citizens in the Cincinnati area is attorney Matt Miller-Novak, who, according to Clermont County court documents, has been responsible for plaintiffs alleging violation of the Open Meetings Act to receive $221,000 in cash to settle violations committed by public entities at public meetings.

For example Milford City School District paid $28,000 recently to settle the claims brought by a Milford graduate when he was banned from school property and public school meetings when the school board after he criticized teachers for their political activity in September 2018. Although Milford Schools avoided any wrongdoing in the action, the settlement cost them and the district taxpayers big bucks. Hopefully, this school board and others will think twice before compromising civil and First Amendment rights of those who attend their meetings.

Furthermore, Milford City Council has agreed to pay $37,000 to settle litigation brought by a freelance journalist, who alleged in her suit that Council was holding secret meetings to promote the sale of property to a private entity while concealing the details from the public.

A 2017 lawsuit filed by the same attorney resulted in the Clermont County Commission (near Cincinnati) agreeing to pay $146,500 to a citizen who alleged a County Commissioner imposed a civil protection order to prevent public criticism during the public comment section of a public Clermont County Commissioner meeting.

In 2018 Miller-Novak sued Amelia Village Council for violation the Open Meetings Act with a secret Executive Session after a resident was escorted out of the meeting in handcuffs when she alleged Council’s negligence and misspending. The case was resolved in six months when the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas awarded a judgment with a $9500 settlement for the relator.

In addition Miller-Novak has successfully litigated on behalf of victims silenced by public entities Madison Local School Board and Colerain Township. Such actions are obviously not Miller-Novak’s first rodeo.

For those in positions of public trust, the time is at hand to consider the financial costs of denying civil rights at public meetings.

We are watching the Lake County mandamus, as well as several in Portage County. When forced with the necessity to settle the claims against them, public officials who have been used to bullying the public may find the costs of engaging in such actions to be costly.

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  49. Again, it seems the lowly taxpayer picks up the tab for settlements, the result of those officials who have violated the law. If there isn’t, Why is there no personal liability for these law breakers? Might that require another legal complaint? Concord Bob

    Sent from my iPad


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