2009-02-28 / Editorials & Letters

Wells says council's executive session was illegal

Editor:

After attending the Feb. 23 Buckeye Lake Village council meeting, I see that nothing has changed. Council President Charlene Hayden still seemingly makes up the rules as she goes along.

The first order of business was to go into executive session without any legal justification. Apparently, the claim was something about "potential" litigation regarding a real estate issue.

According to the Ohio Sunshine Laws Update from the Ohio Attorney General's office, there are just seven valid reasons for a public body to adjourn into executive session. I have included all language from the Update for the three that might possibly apply in the situation. The seven reasons are:

1. Personnel;

2. Property - "A public body may adjourn into executive session to consider the purchase of property (real property and personal property, whether it is tangible or intangible). A public body may also adjourn into executive session to consider the sale of property by competitive bid (real or personal property) if disclosure of the information would result in a competitive advantage to the other side." ORC 121.22(G) (2)

3. Court Action - "A public body may adjourn into executive session with the public body's attorney to discuss pending or imminent court action." ORC 121.22(G) (3) Court action is pending if a lawsuit has been commenced. Court action is imminent if it is on the point of happening or is impending. (Case law)

4. Collective bargaining;

5. Confidential Matters - "A public body may adjourn into executive session to discuss matters required to be kept confidential by federal law, federal rules or state statues." ORC 121.22 (G) (5)

6. Security Arrangements; and

7. County Hospitals' Trade Secrets

The issue discussed in executive session involves a property owner who wants to detach his property from the village to avoid the more stringent Licking County rules about development in a floodplain that Buckeye Lake has adopted. If his property isn't in the village, it is subject to Fairfield County's rules. There is no "pending or imminent" litigation as required and defined in #3 above. Nor was the village attorney present as required in #3. Nor is this issue covered in #2.

At the very end of the meeting, council rejected an ordinance that would allow the property owner to detach and council refused to give any basis for their decision. The property owner's attorney informed council that his client would likely "appeal" their decision. But that statement came after the closed session and the vote.

I appreciate the fact that the village is trying to be fiscally conservative by not requiring the attendance of the village attorney. However, since council doesn't seem to be competent enough to conduct a meeting within the guidelines of the Ohio Revised Code, they may want to reconsider that decision. Maybe our solicitor can give Hayden some remedial training in the Open Meetings Act. It seems that the very thing they're trying to avoid - litigation - may be more likely than ever thanks to their own illegal executive session. Peggy Wells Buckeye Lake

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