Groups say suit essential to government oversight


White

Three groups are on board with a lawsuit filed by a member of the Olentangy Board of Education who has alleged his colleagues circumvented Ohio’s open meetings laws through electronic communication.

In a brief filed last week with the Ohio Supreme Court, the Coalition for Open Government, Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio argued that prior court decisions in the case “opened a loophole for public bodies to evade public scrutiny by deciding and implementing public policy entirely in secret, without the benefit of open meetings.”

“Ohio’s Sunshine Law protects the public’s fundamental right to monitor the government and ensure that their representatives are working for the public benefit,” the brief reads. “To protect that democracy-sustaining principal, the Sunshine Law contemplates only one way of conducting public business: open meetings.”

White claims that a series of emails between the four other board members – who were trying to craft a response to a 2012 Columbus Dispatch editorial critical of a district policy – amounted to an illegal meeting of a public body.

The editorial was in response to a policy the board adopted that required communications between board members and staff to pass through the superintendent or treasurer after White launched an independent investigation into expenditures of two of the district’s athletic directors. One later resigned and both were required to reimburse the district for improper spending.

Months later, the board voted to endorse the response to the editorial.

White’s colleagues have argued that they did not violate the state’s open meeting laws.

The 5th District Court of Appeals had upheld a Delaware County Common Pleas Court ruling that dismissed White’s lawsuit against his fellow board members. The court cited a 2002 change in the state’s open meeting laws, which did not address electronic communication between members of a public body.