SALEM - City Health Commissioner Richard Setty said the department received a "good heads up" recently regarding when the board can legally go behind closed doors during their meetings.
Setty reminded the board members of the rules for executive sessions during their most recent meeting after he received an FYI from the executive secretary of the Sanitarian Registration Board in Columbus about a decision in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
In the decision, a judge ordered the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to pay a $500 fine plus attorney fees for violating the Open Meetings Act by failing to state a valid basis for going into executive session for alleged pending litigation, an e-mail sent to Setty said.
The e-mail had been forwarded from a senior assistant attorney general from the Health and Human Services Section of the Office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. According to the e-mail, the court noted that the board did not state the reason for going into executive session and even if it had, the reason of pending litigation would not have been valid because it was determined there was no evidence showing that litigation was "pending or imminent."
The e-mail said "the primary lesson from the decision is that the agency must select and state a valid basis for going into executive session, with reference to the particular statutory exception that is invoked. The minutes must accurately reflect the statutory basis. Further, if the 'pending and imminent litigation' exception is invoked, litigation must actually be pending or imminent. In addition, the discussions in executive session must be limited to the topic and purpose stated in the motion."
According to Ohio Revised Code, there are seven exceptions that provide for a public body to not meet in open session. Many local bodies meet in executive session during the course of a meeting as provided by law, including city councils, boards of township trustees, village councils, school boards and the city and county boards of health.
Setty said the e-mail was just a reminder to make sure boards look at legitimate reasons for going behind closed doors and specifically state them when taking a vote to go into executive session, being sure to note them in the minutes. Any action taken must be done in open session.
"I think we've done that and we should be good," he said.
Ohio Revised Code 121.22 says an executive session can be held for the following reasons:
for personnel, "to consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion or compensation of a public employee or official, or the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee or regulated individual" unless the person requests a public hearing
to consider the purchase of property for public purposes, or for the sale of property at competitive bidding
conferences with an attorney for the public body concerning disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent litigation
preparing for, conducting or reviewing negotiations or bargaining sessions with public employees concerning their compensation or other terms of their employment
matters required to be kept confidential by federal law or regulations or state statutes
details regarding security arrangements and emergency response protocols for a public body or public office if disclosure could jeopardize the security of the public body or office
to consider trade secrets, in the case of a county hospital, joint township hospital or municipal hospital.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org