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Make sunshine law brighter

The people who run Clearcreek Township in Warren County are accused of hashing out the public’s business in private, then going into their regular meeting and voting.

It was “a pre-meeting before every meeting,” the township’s fiscal officer testified in court.

If true (the matter is still before a judge), it would certainly violate the spirit, and possibly the letter, of Ohio’s open meetings law.

But confusing the matter is the somewhat murky state of Ohio’s law governing what’s an open meeting and what’s not.

In some cases, sessions meant for fact finding, information gathering, or listening — even when a majority of board members are present — have been considered closed to the public. Indeed, the attorney representing the township, John D. Smith, has argued that the pre-meeting sessions were merely “fact-finding” gatherings and therefore not required to be open to the public.

The public should have plenty of notice and plenty of access to these deliberations, because they eventually form the substance of the laws and regulations that govern us. But that’s not always the case.

That’s why a bill now in the Ohio Legislature deserves to move forward.

State Sen. Shannon Jones, a Republican from Springboro, has sponsored Senate Bill 93, which would essentially broaden the definition of an open meeting and clear up what’s open to the public.

It would go a long way toward ensuring that the public has access to the decision-making process long before a vote is taken and can offer input and participate.

 

The Cincinnati Enquirer