May 16, 2014
Once considered a model for open and accountable government, Ohio’s Open Meetings Act (R.C. § 121.22, et seq.) was intended to be “liberally construed to require public officials to take official action and to conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings unless the subject matter is specifically excepted by law.”
What appears to be pretty straightforward language, telling the courts to read the statute in favor of open government, the courts have slowly whittled away at what had been a model law.
But there is hope. Adam Stewart v. Board of Education of Lockland School District challenges a school board’s decision to hold an employee disciplinary hearing in executive session (non-public), even though the employee himself demanded a public hearing. The trial court and court of appeals relied on a 1980 Ohio Supreme Court case that interpreted the law to allow the School Board to hold a non-public hearing despite the employee’s demand. So where is the hope? The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the decision in the Stewart case. Stewart will have the opportunity to ask the Court to revisit its 1980 decision and re-liberalize Ohio’s Open Meeting Act.