Perhaps some of our nagging and preaching about the virtues of the Ohio Sunshine Law is beginning to pay off.
Twice in the past two weeks we've seen evidence that some local officials are paying attention.
First, East Liverpool Board of Education member Dick Wolf insisted that his fellow board members had to be specific about the reason when adjourning into executive session to discuss personnel. Simply stating on the board's agenda that it would discuss "all aspects of personnel that fall under the law" was not sufficient, Wolf correctly said. Governmental bodies covered by the Sunshine Law must be specific about which aspect of personnel (hiring, firing, employment, discipline, compensation, etc.) will be discussed.
Then, later that same week, Salem City Health Commissioner Richard Setty reminded health board members of the rules for executive session after he received an email from the executive secretary of the Sanitarian Registration Board in Columbus about a decision in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
The judge ordered the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to pay a $500 fine plus attorney fees for violating the Sunshine Law by failing to state a valid basis for going into executive session for alleged pending litigation.
The court noted that the board did not state the reason for going into executive session and even if it had, the reason given of pending litigation would not have been valid because it was determined there was no evidence showing that litigation was "pending or imminent."
Too often our local boards and councils use the excuse of "pending litigation" to move into executive session and in many cases the "pending" litigation is actually "feared possible litigation," which unlike filed or imminent litigation is not a valid reason.
At the Morning Journal, we've long been known as the Sunshine Police, but often we have felt that our reminders and admonishments fall on deaf ears. Maybe we can't take credit for these sudden realizations, maybe seeing violators actually be fined is responsible for the attention the law is receiving. Whatever it is we're grateful for it. Government operating openly or "in the sunshine" is better government for all.