Meetings need to be open to public, too

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

In our last four issues, we have published the findings of a study that found most segments Ohio government are not giving citizens access to public records.

While this study indicates governments are not keeping records public, it does not address how open they are when conducting official business. The Ohio Sunshine Laws outline government's legal requirements regarding open meetings.

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The Open Meetings Act states that government must hold its meetings in public so that citizens can observe all actions taken. It requires public officials to take official actions and conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings. The law has a few exceptions in which public bodies may go into executive session.

Such session must be entered during open meetings and only deliberation of issues can take place. Voting on the issues must be in public view.

In order to go into executive session, the subject must be one of six reasons specified in the law, which include:

Discussion concerning compensation or disciplinary matters concerning a county official or employee; discussions concerning the purchase or sale of property if public discussion would hurt the bidding process; discussions with legal counsel concerning pending or imminent court action; preparing for, conducting or reviewing collective bargaining strategy; discussion of matters required to be kept confidential by federal law or rules or state statutes; discussion of certain security matters.

Nowhere in the law does it state that a government body can go into executive session to keep something out of the newspaper. Too often, government boards will enter executive sessions on the premise of "personnel" and not be more specific.

A lot of the times, these bodies have legitimate reasons to go into executive session, and journalists respect that right. We have to trust that they are following the law and, most of the time, they probably are.

Our elected officials need to realize this openness is so that residents can see their government at work. Secrecy breeds distrust. We, as citizens, have a right to expect our local government to be open and accountable, not closed and paranoid about outside scrutiny.