"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers." - A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, John Adams (1765)
Sunshine Week is observed once a week every March. To protect our freedom, it must be practiced every day. Ohio's Sunshine Laws are The Public Records Act and Open Meetings Act.
This column focuses on the Open Meetings Act. Public bodies must take official actions and conduct deliberations upon official business in open meetings which means open to the public. There are a few limited topics that can be discussed in closed or executive sessions. The most common ones are:
1. Certain Personnel Matters: A public body may adjourn into executive session:
• To consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion or compensation of a public employee or official;
• To consider the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual, unless the employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual requests a public hearing;
• A public body may not hold an executive session to consider the discipline of an elected official for conduct related to the performance of the official's duties or to consider that person's removal from office.
2. Purchase of Property: A public body may adjourn into executive session to consider the purchase of property of any sort: real, personal, tangible or intangible. A public body may also adjourn into executive session consider the sale or real or personal property by competitive bid if disclosure of the information would result in a competitive advantage to a person whose personal, private interest is adverse to the general public interest.
3. Pending or Imminent Litigation: A public body may adjourn into executive session with the public body's attorney to discuss a pending or imminent court action. Court action is "pending" if a lawsuit has been commenced or is "imminent" if it is on the point of happening. A public body may not use this exception to adjourn into executive session for discussions with a board member who also happens to be an attorney. The attorney should be the duly appointed counsel for the public body.
The above exceptions are the most frequently cited as justification to close a meeting to the public. Make sure they are being properly applied.