Officials holding local or municipal board meetings must allow the public to attend and observe. Under the Open Meetings Act, Ohio residents may watch and listen to public officials during business or decision-making discussions.
The Act applies to all individuals of a public body or board. Committee or subcommittee members must comply even when not participating in a decision’s final outcomes. The Act requires prearranging a meeting’s date and time and then posting a public notice so anyone may attend. Officials must also list the majority members and who will discuss or deliberate issues during the meeting.
Defining what the public may or may not view
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s website, a “meeting” includes electronic communications such as emails or text messages. The Open Meetings Act regards officials sending messages containing discussions related to public issues as holding electronic meetings. If a topic includes exchanging information that may influence an official vote, the Act considers it a meeting.
The Act classifies “discussion” as exchanging ideas, words and comments related to public business. “Deliberation” includes officials examining reasons for acting in a particular manner or weighing the reasons for not acting. Gathering information or engaging in private conversations, however, may not qualify as discussion or deliberation.
Maintaining records to avoid legal actions
The Public Records Act generally requires public officials to keep minutes of meetings. Officials must also maintain copies of electronic exchanges. Violations may result in residents filing legal actions against board members. As noted in a Cincinatti.com report, members of a public-school board could face a lawsuit when alleged to have failed to record minutes of their meetings.
Plaintiffs may also claim board members did not post public notices of their meetings. Each violation could result in a $500 fine. To avoid legal issues, public officials may consider using audio and video equipment for recording meetings.