“The township people paid for the circus,” said Liberty Township trustee Tom Mitchell, “yet there’s no access to whatever happened.”
Mitchell had concerns about the half-page of minutes that was created for the Aug. 8, 2016 trustee session involving a four-day hearing for the former Fire Chief Tim Jensen.
“I know these minutes fulfill our legal obligation for minutes from the public hearing, but I do have a problem with this being our only physical record of anything that transpired at that hearing,” he said in the Jan. 17 trustee session.
“There should be something more than some people were called to testify,” Mitchell said. “Is there something documenting what actually happened other than some people testified? Was it recorded?”
Mitchell told The Gazette Monday, “I found the notes to be totally inadequate. It just didn’t feel right to me.”
Trustees Melanie Leneghan and Shyra Eichhorn approved the minutes. Mitchell abstained from the vote.
The township needed to fulfill their legal obligation when township residents Dr. Mark Gerber and Jim Hurt sent a Public Information Request for the Aug. 8, 2016, transcript of the hearing. More specifically, the testimony of Douglas Duckett, the Cincinnati attorney hired by trustees as a private citizen to investigate the conduct of the former chief.
Gerber and Hurt have filed against the township in the Court of Claims over documents from the township’s investigation into the conduct of the former fire chief. Both claim the handwritten notes of Duckett are public record and should be released to the public.
Hurt said mediation had failed and according to the filing in the court, the office responsible for public records now has 10 business days to file a response, “and if applicable, a motion to dismiss the complaint with the clerk of the Court of Claims.”
Cathy Buehrer, administrative assistant, said she recreated the minutes from the “list of witness that were provided by Fishel, Hass, Albrecht, Downey,” the law firm employed by the township in the Jensen hearing.
During the Jan. 17 session, the trustees expressed their objections to paying the court recorder’s fee of $4 per page to transcribe the hearing. Trustee Shyra Eichhorn called the amount for transcription an “outrageous amount” in the trustee meeting.
Mitchell said instead of the township paying for a transcription from the hearing, they were looking into acquiring an audio file and having Buehrer transcribe the recording. “I don’t think the township should spend the money to transcribe the hearing when we can do it in-house,” he said.
Mitchell told The Gazette that the township had consulted with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office about the notes before they were presented in the trustee session. He said they were told the minutes did meet their legal obligation.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office pointed The Gazette to the 2016 Sunshine Laws Manual, page 97, under the heading of “Minutes Content.”
“A public body must keep full and accurate minutes of its meetings,” the Manual states. “Those minutes are not required to be a verbatim transcript of the proceedings, but must include enough facts and information to permit the public to understand and appreciate the rationale behind the public body’s decisions. The Ohio Supreme Court holds that minutes must include more than a record of roll call votes, and that minutes are inadequate when they contain inaccuracies that are not corrected. A public body cannot rely on sources other than their approved minutes to argue that their minutes contain a full and accurate record of their proceedings.”
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.
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