Open Meetings Act…protecting the public

(LFC Comments: In case you are not aware, this writer has filed a lawsuit in the Lake County Court of Common Pleas against the Lake County Commissioners and the Lake County Visitors Bureau for violation of the Open Meetings Act. Back in February, 2019, Commissioner Jerry Cirino (Yes, the same person that wants to be your next State Senator) asked me to leave a public meeting between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau. It has caused this writer to spend a tremendous amount of time reading the Ohio Revised Code, rules for Civil Procedures, and filing motion after motion.  As we find rulings regarding the Ohio Open Meetings Act, we will share what we have learned.    The public must be told the truth, and the politicians held accountable.)

The purpose of the Open Meetings Act, is to ensure the right of the public to know what the public body is doing so that its members may be held accountable at the ballot box.

The Open Meetings Act cases generally originate in the Court of Common Pleas for the county in which the offending public body resides. Once Common Pleas has ruled on the case, the parties have an “appeal of right” to the Court of Appeals for the district, in the case of Lake as well as Ashtabula, Geauga, Portage, and Trumbull counties, the 11th District. The term  “appeal of right” means that as long as the appeal is filed within 30 days, the Court of Appeals must take the appeal.

If a party is not satisfied with the opinion of the Court of Appeals, he may file a “jurisdictional appeal” to the Supreme Court of Ohio (SCO) within 45 days. The term “jurisdictional appeal” means that the SCO must first be persuaded to accept jurisdiction of the appeal by a Brief in Support of Jurisdiction. That brief must convince the SCO that the case is a case of public or great general interest or involves a substantial constitutional question. If the brief does not do that, the SCO will decline jurisdiction.

In a jurisdictional brief, the party must set forth “propositions of law” which are what the SCO is being asked to rule.

The Open Meetings Act provides a limited exception for “conferences with an attorney for the public body concerning disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent court action”. That is because the interests of the public are served by the protection of those discussions until after the disputes are resolved. It is important
to remember that this exception ends with the resolution of the dispute.

Public bodies such as a board of township trustees are created by the General Assembly. They have only the rights and powers that the lawmakers give them. The lawmakers have every right to require a public body to comply with the Open Meetings Act. Those members of a public body who find this unacceptable may exercise their right to resign.

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