Open meetings law protects public

Some government officials seem to think that the less the public knows about what they are doing, the better. That is why open meetings and records laws are a necessity.

Last year, members of the Columbus City Schools Board of Education held seven closed meetings to discuss a scandal about “scrubbing” attendance reports. They had their attorney present and insisted Ohio’s open meetings law did not pertain to them because of an exemption allowing closed meetings to discuss “pending or imminent court action.”

But there was no court action. Board members simply used the ruse because they didn’t want the public to know what they were discussing. Sadly, it is a scheme other public bodies use, on occasion.

But earlier this month, a Franklin County magistrate ruled the closed meetings were illegal. No more can be held under the excuse used by the board, he said.

Good. Members of other government bodies in Ohio need to keep that in mind – that the public’s right to know cannot be infringed upon merely because officials decide their constituents should be kept in the dark.

Ohio’s retirement systems for public employees have billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities. It may well be that future beneficiaries of the programs will have to be asked to accept changes in their plans in order to keep them solvent.

Officials who administer the pension systems ought to be setting a good example of stewardship.

It seems that thought has not occurred to some of them.

Three members of the School Employee Retirement System, which covers school workers other than professional educators, had planned to use $11,000 in state funds to attend a conference sponsored by the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems – in Hawaii.

Some legislators and the Ohio Retirement Study Council have called for the three to cancel the trip. Of course they should do that. No one else from any of the four public pension programs had planned to take the Hawaii junket.

Why the three didn’t see the impropriety of making the trip in the first place raises the question of whether they have the right sets of priorities to be involved in managing a financially troubled pension program.