(LFC Comments: Thanks to the patriots at Auburntownship.org for this outstanding, detailed recap of recent rulings on Ohio’s Open Meeting Act violations.)
We are very proud of all the patriots who are challenging the local government yokels who are starting to take the heat from the courts for their feudalistic outlooks regarding the civic rights of citizens established in the Ohio Public Records Act. Legal actions against imperious leadership obsessed with its own self-importance is popping up all over the state in mediating healthy protests initiated by enraged victims of rotten local governance: a grassroots revolt, if you will.
You will recall that at the end of August we reviewed a case decided by the Ohio Supreme Court: State ex rel v More Bratenahl v Village of Bratenahl, 2019-Ohio-3233. This recently-decided case has answered the question of the legality of secret ballot during public meetings was legal; any public officials who call for a secret ballot during such public meetings will find the results voided with the need for another legal vote. As a result of this judgment, we are studying several such utilizations of the secret vote in Geauga County.
We are particularly aware of numerous legal questions sent to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals regarding irregularities in Portage County. For example, a grassroots movement ousted the leadership of the Portage County Republican Central Committee over by-law irregularities. In several of those legal questions, Brian Ames over the last several years, demonstrating expertise and superb knowledge of Ohio Revised Code, as won the majority of the actions that he has filed in Portage County Common Pleas Court and Eleventh District Court of Appeals pro se . As such, he files his legal actions without the aid of an attorney. He continues to demonstrate the value and importance of pro se legal actions to demonstrate the need for research and persistence. Bravo, Brian!
The Geauga Park District has also found itself caught in the judicial squeeze as a result of a judgment from the Ohio Court of Claims. That action, also filed pro se in the Court of Claims in Franklin County by a Geauga County resident, resulted in a positive outcome and a preservation of the rights of the electorate.
These cases are, we believe, the tip of the iceberg for government officials who are not bright enough to learn that “The Times, They Are a-Changin’.”
In short, as a result of local government’s lack of propriety and respect for the electorate, the natives have grown mighty restless as they have studied the issues and patiently gained knowledge and expertise about the judicial system. They have become particularly aware of and knowledgeable about Ohio’s Public Records Act and the Ohio Meetings Act.
As a result, with great skill they are challenging and taking down elected officials who disregard laws on a whim. What unscrupulous “leaders” got away with before will no longer stand. What is the penalty for violating the Ohio Public Records Act, the Ohio Meetings Act, and Ohio Sunshine Laws? If the court that renders the judgment for the legal complaint “issues an injunction, the court will order the public body to pay a civil forfeiture of $500 to the person who filed the action,” to pay “ a $500 forfeiture for each violation [each day that the violation exists].” and “to pay all court costs and the reasonable attorney fees of the person who filed the action,” as noted on page 118 in the 2019 edition of the Ohio Attorney General’s Open Government Resource Manual titled Ohio Sunshine Laws.
For the record, if a public office or body fails to honor a valid Public Records request, Ohio Revised Code speaks to a resolution. ORC 149.43(C)(2) states, “The amount of statutory damages shall be fixed at one hundred dollars for each business day” with a ten-day maximum ($1000) with the award filer’s reasonable attorney fees subject to the decision of the court.
The Eleventh District Court of Appeals, under the guidance of Appellate Judges Mary Jane Trapp, Cynthia Westcott Rice, and Matthew J. Lynch, just this week filed another opinion regarding the propriety of public meetings in Lake County Case 2018-L-116. The case arose because the appellant, a firefighter for Concord Township found himself the victim of a trustee-ordered job demotion and work schedule reduction. As a result of Lake County Common Pleas Court’s affirmation of the Concord Trustees’ discipline of the employee, he filed in Eleventh District Appeals Court. The Court dismissed the first appeal on a technicality but found the second filing, 2018-L-116, to have merit when it averred that “[t]he trial court erred in granting judgment in favor of appellees [the Concord, Ohio, Township Trustees] on appellant’s complaint by failing to consider the threshold issue of whether appellees complied with RC 121.22 (G)(1).”
To resolve this case, the Eleventh District Appeals Court relied its decision on two recent Eleventh District judgments: State ex rel Ames v Brimfield Twp. Bd of Trustees, 2019-P-0017, 11th Dist. Portage No. 2019-P-0017, 2019-Ohio-_______wherein meeting minutes failed to identify the specific purposes for which executive session had been convened and caused “the purpose and intent of the OMA [to be] circumvented.” In the case of the Lake County appeal, “it is undisputed that the meeting minutes were deficient in identifying the purpose of the executive session.”
. . . No reason for entering executive session was stated; . . . the Board [Concord Township Board of Trustees[ has failed to comply with RC 121.22(G)(1).
The second Brian Ames filing cited as part of the rationale for the final judgment is State ex rel Ames v. Portage Cty. Bd. Or Commrs., 11th Dist. Portage No. 2017-P-0003 2018-Ohio-2888, regarding proper deliberation within public meetings.
As a result, the Eleventh District has remanded the issue back to Lake County Common Pleas Court demanding that it compel the Concord Board of Trustees to comply with the Ohio Meetings Act by paying all the appellant’s court costs and attorney fees and reversing the demotion erroneously rendered against the appellant by the township trustees.
It is our opinion that the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office, which traditionally represents Lake County’s elected officials, and the Lake County Commissioners, which will have to make the legal awards to the appellant, would have preferred the appellant to eat the local court’s judgment, shut up, and go hide under a rock. Following the rules is far less costly to Lake County taxpayers.
Some advice for all the elected Good Old Boys stuck on their own omnipotence. We repeat an earlier epithet: “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” The sooner you Good Old Boys learn to play by the rules you impose on everyone else, the less it will cost you in terms of bucks and respect.
We send you Good Old Boys this holiday wish: “Get Clean and Stay Clean for a Healthy New Year!”