2008-04-05 / News

It's still cloudy in Walnut Township

It's still pretty cloudy in Walnut Township and we're not talking about the dreary weather.

Here's a quick recap. On March 19, a Beacon reporter asked Walnut Township officials for a copy of a letter from Union Township Trustees to the Walnut Township Zoning Committee. Though the letter was available, zoning inspector Ralph Reeb told zoning clerk Lisa Ety to withhold it because we hadn't put our request in writing and Walnut Township has a minimum 48 hour waiting period. Both requirements are violations of the Ohio Revised Code.

We decided to play Reeb's little game. We attempted to hand deliver a written request for the Union Township letter and the township's public records policy on Friday, March 21. The officewas apparently closed for Good Friday. Our letter was then hand delivered on Monday, March 24. Five days later on Friday, March 28, we finally were told that the public documents (all four pages) were available for pickup.

That's ridiculous and an egregious violation of the Public Records Act. We've since learned that others have had to wait for more than a week for simple public record requests in Walnut Township.

Walnut Township did provide a copy of its public records policy. It's not dated so it might have been made up last week. Interestingly, the "policy" doesn't require a written request though it asks that a "request form" be filled out. There is no mention of Reeb's 48-hour waiting period. Maybe Walnut Township has decided to comply with the law or maybe the policy is just window dressing. Unfortunately, it is probably the latter.

Our reporter also sought the same document from Union Township. Zoning Inspector Paula Greene was much more cooperative, but couldn't come up with it. On Tuesday, March 25, she asked Walnut Township for a copy and it was faxed to her at 9:48 a.m. Walnut Township, now in receipt of our written request, decided to make us wait FOUR more days for the same record. That is blatant arrogance and, of course, a violation of law.

Once we got the letter from Union Township, we discovered that it's pretty cloudy in Union Township as well. The letter was dated Feb. 29, 2008, and was presented for a March 6 zoning commission meeting. It read in part, "We as Township Officials would like to formally state that we are against the proposed zoning change." We could findno evidence that this decision to oppose the requested zoning change in another township was discussed in a public meeting BEFORE the letter was written and presented to the zoning commission. The letter was discussed at the March 17 trustees' meeting, but that's more than two weeks after the decision had already been made.

Making a decision, "formal" or otherwise, outside a public meeting is a violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act (Ohio Revised Code 121.22), which "requires public bodies to deliberate, discuss, and conduct officialbusiness in open meetings." ORC 121.22 (H) states, "A resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body." That means the Union Township letter should not have been considered by the FairfieldCounty Regional Planning Commission when making its recommendation to the Walnut Township Zoning Commission. Nor should the zoning commission consider it.

Access to public records and making decisions in public are important cornerstones for our democracy. We will continue to insist that all governmental entities comply with Ohio law. We urge voters to do the same. It is YOUR government.

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