Ignorance of Ohio’s open meeting law is no excuse

A new year unsurprisingly brings to light a new Sunshine Law violation in Columbiana County. This time Wellsville Village Council is the violator.

Council and Mayor Susan Haugh held an illegal “special” meeting on Wednesday to add the name of fiscal Clerk Cassandra Bloor to village banking accounts, with Haugh’s added as a third name “when required.”

When asked why no notice of this meeting was given to the media as required by law, Haugh said, “It was an emergency. We needed to write checks … and we weren’t able to.”

When she was advised that Ohio’s Open Meeting Act (Sunshine Law) requires public bodies calling an emergency meeting to immediately notify the media that it has been called and the meeting’s purpose, Haugh said she was unaware notification was required and “it won’t happen again.”

Any action taken at a meeting determined to have been called illegally can be declared null and void in the event of court action against a public body.

For those officials not familiar with Ohio’s Sunshine Law, the statute states “an emergency meeting is a special meeting that is convened when a situation requires immediate official action. When an emergency meeting is scheduled, the public body must immediately notify all media outlets that have specifically requested such notice of the time, place and purpose of the emergency meeting.”

We can’t understand how this keeps happening when every governmental board or agency in the state of Ohio is required to send at least one member to special Sunshine Law training.

Local governmental boards should consider this a reminder to make sure one of their members signs up for the necessary training soon.

Several training sessions are scheduled each month around the state. A schedule can be found on the Ohio Attorney General’s website: www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov. Also on this website, a complete copy of the law can be downloaded. So, even for those who have yet to undergo training, ignorance of the law is no excuse – you can read it online.