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Portage County commissioners did not violate Sunshine Law at bike trail meeting

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 26, 2017

Portage County Commissioners did not violate Ohio’s Open Meetings Act when it held an emergency session to discuss the Hiram Hike and Bike Trail, the 11th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Case summary indicates Brian M. Ames filed a pro se complaint against the three-member board in November 2016, alleging six counts in violation of R.C. 121.22.

According to the complaint, the Board held four separate meetings on Nov. 4, 2015; the Board called one of those meetings as an “emergency meeting” when there was no emergency; did not give proper notice of one of those meetings; the Board discussed matters not disclosed in the notices that were given and failed to keep full and accurate minutes of each meeting.

Ames attached copies of four public notices that had been published in the Ravenna Record Courier.

Commissioners denied violating any provisions of the Open Meetings Act.

Each party filed its own motion for summary judgment.

In September 2016, the trial court granted the Board’s motion, finding proper notice was given to the news media. The trial judge also found there were no issues of law.

On appeal, Ames claimed the trial court erred by concluding only one meeting was held on Nov. 4, 2015.

Appellate Judge Timothy P. Cannon disagreed in his 3-0 opinion, finding one meeting with multiple purposes was held.

“The Board canceled all of its regular meetings scheduled for the months of November and December 2015 in a public notice issued on Oct. 23, 2015,” Judge Cannon wrote. “That same day, the Board issued a separate public notice of a special meeting to be held on Nov. 4, 2015. The purpose of that special meeting was to meet in executive session to discuss details relative to the security arrangements and emergency response protocols for a public body or a public office. On Oct. 25, 2015, the Board issued another public notice that it would review fiscal year 2016 budgets with elected officials and department heads at special meetings to be held on Nov. 2, 3, and 4, 2015.

“… On the afternoon of Nov. 3, 2015, the Board’s clerk emailed a public notice to various local media outlets of a special emergency meeting to be held on Nov. 4, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. The Record Courier published this notice the morning of Nov. 4, 2015. It stated, `The purpose of this special emergency meeting is to meet with the Portage Park District to discuss the Hiram Hike and Bike Trail and to conduct budget meetings as previously advertised.

“On Nov. 4, 2015, the Board convened the special meeting at 9:38 a.m. and discussed the Hiram Hike and Bike Trail. The emergency nature of the need for this discussion on this date was explained in the affidavit of the Board’s clerk. At 9:52 a.m., the Board moved into executive session to discuss a personnel matter. … At 10:08 a.m., the Board moved out of executive session and began the 2016 budget discussion with certain county officials. At 11:05 a.m., the board moved into executive session to discuss security arrangements and emergency response protocols ... The Board then moved out of executive session and recessed at 11:46 a.m. Upon reconvening at 1:16 p.m., they remained in public session and continued discussing the 2016 budget with other county officials.”

The 11th District panel affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Board.

Appellate judges Thomas R. Wright and Diane V. Grendell concurred.

The case is cited State ex rel Ames v. Portage Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 2017-Ohio-4237.