Access to public records is a cornerstone to transparency and the ability for the public to stand watch over those it has chosen to run our governmental bodies. Just as important to transparency is the Open Meetings Act. This set of rules sets the standard to how meetings are held in open session and the specific reasons a body can adjourn into executive session.
“The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies in Ohio to take official action and conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings were the public may attend and observe,” states the 2018 Ohio Meetings Act.
By requiring bodies to publicly announce meeting dates, times and location, it provides an opportunity for the public to attend and even address the body if they choose. Hearing the dialogue between members of the board or council allows the public to get a better understanding of the thought process behind decisions made. This transparency is necessary to build trusting relationships between the body and the people it serves.
There are times, however, when it is necessary for governing bodies to discuss certain items in private. These executive sessions must be voted upon and must relate to very specific topics. They are:
•Personnel matters (announcing one of the following topics — appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion or compensation);
•Purchase or sale of land;
•Pending or imminent court action;
•Collective bargaining matters;
•Matters required to be kept confidential;
•Hospital trade secrets;
•Confidential business information of an applicant for economic development assistance; and
•Veterans Service Commission applications.
While the conversation can happen behind closed doors for these topics, it is important to remember that no voting can take place in private.
A popular misconception about executive sessions is that the conversation is “confidential.” According to the Open Meetings Act, that’s not the case. Confidentiality is not mandatory unless confidentiality rules apply. There is nothing in the act to prohibit a member of the body from discussing the topic in public.
Transparency is imperative for any governing body whether it be township trustees, the county board of commissioners, village or city council, or a community fire board. Following the rules of the Open Meetings Act is the only way governing bodies can maintain trust and a partnership with its constituents.
Samantha Scoles is the managing editor of the News and can be reached at 740-397-5333, ext. 248, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.