Liberty Township trustees confirmed that no public vote was taken to file an appeal in the Court of Appeals seeking to overturn a Court of Claims decision.
The ruling centered on notes taken during the investigation of former fire chief Tim Jensen.
The Gazette reported April 25 that trustee Melanie Leneghan said trustees had discussed, in an executive session, filing the paperwork in the appellate court. She said since it is a legal matter there is no need for a public vote.
According to John C. Greiner, Cincinnati attorney, the trustees may not have followed the Ohio Revised Code regarding open meetings, also known as The Sunshine Law.
“The law seems very clear to me,” Greiner said.
Greiner then cited Ohio Revised Code 121, “(H) A resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body. A resolution, rule, or formal action adopted in an open meeting that results from deliberations in a meeting not open to the public is invalid unless the deliberations were for a purpose specifically authorized in division (G) or (J) of this section and conducted at an executive session held in compliance with this section.
“A resolution, rule, or formal action adopted in an open meeting is invalid if the public body that adopted the resolution, rule, or formal action violated division (F) of this section.”
Greiner said this portion of the code is important in this matter.
“The first sentence is explicit and the second sentence implies very strongly that the formal action that ‘results from a deliberation in a meeting not open to the public’ still must be adopted in an open meeting,” he said in an email to The Gazette.
Greiner has been a licensed attorney for 34 years and is a member of the Cincinnati Bar Association. He practices commercial litigation with Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP of Cincinnati, with areas of practice including communications, media, public records and advocates for government transparency.
Trustees Tom Mitchell and Shyra Eichhorn both said there was no vote taken.
Eichhorn said, “There has been no formal vote taken.”
Eichhorn previously said she agreed with Leneghan that filing the appeal is in the best interest of the township and its employees.
The Gazette sought a second opinion from the State of Ohio Auditor’s Office Open Government Unit.
“According to the Ohio Revised Code, all formal actions have to be decided in an open meeting,” said Dominic Binkley, Auditor of State Office public information officer. “Specifically, ORC 121.22(H) states that ‘A resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body.’”
The Court of Claims ordered the release of the notes March 29 from Cincinnati attorney Douglas Duckett’s investigation into the conduct of the township’s former fire chief.
Stephanie Schoolcraft, attorney for the township with Fishel, Hass, Kim, Albrecht, asked the appellate court April 21 to review “whether the personal notes of a non-employee private citizen appointed pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code are public records even though the personal; notes were not provided to, maintained, or used by … Liberty Township.”
Jensen accepted a position as fire prevention officer as part of a settlement with the township in the fall of 2016.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.