Court protects freedom

Published 10:10 am Thursday, May 5, 2016

The only way a democracy can be effective is if those in public office offer complete disclosure. The public, whether on the national level or in a village municipality, has the utmost right to know the decisions their public servants make. But more importantly, the public needs to know how those decisions were derived.

That is where the sunshine law comes into play. Public documents and public discussion must be completely open.

In 2013, a former member of a Columbus area school board sued that same board of education because he contended that an exchange of emails between the board president and three other members was a violation of the sunshine law.

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Two athletic directors were the focus of an independent investigation by the former member over what he alleged were improper expenditures. Other board members apparently weren’t pleased with these actions and instituted a policy where all communications must go through the superintendent or treasurer. The former member objected.

The Columbus Dispatch supported the rejection, writing an editorial in support of the ex-member’s position.

The school board was unhappy with the editorial and in a series of emails between the other four board members devised a response that was later validated at an open board meeting.

Those emails were the focus of a lawsuit by the ex-board member.

On Tuesday the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision that communication between at least two public officials, whether it is via a meeting, email, text or telephone, is public and protected by the sunshine law.

The Supreme Court took the right position in ensuring the public always has the right to know.