Ohio state Sen. Shannon Jones has proposed legislation to strengthen Ohio's open meetings law.
Jones' proposal would increase the types of discussions subject to the Open Meetings Act and would also expand the possible penalties for violating the law.
Currently, the law requires the decision-making body of a public organization to hold discussions and take action during "pre-arranged" meetings that are open to the public.
Under the proposed change, unscheduled discussions about public business among the majority of members of a public body would also have to be public. Government officials who meet for information-gathering purposes would also have to make those meetings public.
Jones' bill would expand fees and expenses that may be recovered for violations of the act. It also would require that more details be given in the public motions required to hold closed-door meetings, known as executive sessions.
After the Springboro Republican introduced the changes, some public officials voiced concerns that the new law would make it more difficult for them to govern. But we question whether groups that feel openness will impede their operations are conducting business with the public's best interests at heart.
While Jones' changes are a good start, we feel the law still doesn't go far enough and would like to suggest even more improvements.
The elimination of Sunshine Law provisions which allow municipal governments operating under a charter amendment the ability to exempt themselves from sections of the laws is one change we would suggest.
We'd also like to see the law strengthened to require quasi-public boards that are currently exempt from operating under the statute to conduct their business in the open. Some governmental entities, such as the boards of the Community Action Agency and the Family Recovery Center here in Columbiana County, were established as non-profit organizations and as such are exempt from the Sunshine Law despite the fact the majority of their funding comes from taxpayers. They should be held to the same standards as other public boards.
When you're dealing with public money, the public has the right to know, and all business should be conducted accordingly.