Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 12, 2016

OH Appeals Court Finds One-On-One Sessions Between Township Trustees and Conservancy’s Field Director Did Not Constitute “Meetings” under the Open Meetings Law

Appellant, Kenneth Radtke, Jr., filed a complaint entitled, “Action To Declare Invalid A Resolution Of The Chester Township Board of Trustees In Violation of The Open Meeting Act,” against the Township, the Trustees, and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. Radtke alleged that on December 1, 2011, the Trustees approved a resolution granting a conservation easement over a tract of land in Chester Township to the Conservancy. He further alleged the Trustees’ grant of the easement violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act because it resulted from prior meetings, communications, and deliberations, as reflected in a series of e-mails attached to the complaint, which violated the Open Meetings Act. Radtke also alleged that the Conservancy organized these meetings and benefitted from them as the recipient of said conservation easement. The Court of Common Pleas, granted township’s motion to dismiss and Radtke appealed.

Ohio’s Open Meetings Act, popularly known as the “Sunshine Law,” requires that governmental bodies take official action and conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings. In order for the Open Meetings Act to apply, a public body must simultaneously: conduct a “meeting”; and “deliberate” concerning public business. However, for there to be a meeting as defined by the Sunshine Law, a majority of a public body’s members must come together. Moreover, to the extent that appellant argued the e-mails between some of these members constituted violations of the Open Meeting Act, the court found the argument lacked merit since Ohio courts have uniformly held e-mails do not constitute meetings for purposes of the Open Meeting Act. As to the in-person meetings, even if public business was discussed by Mr. Rodstrom, field director for the Conservancy, and the one trustee in attendance at each session, a majority of the trustees was not present at any of the sessions.

Additionally, because the individual trustees who met with Mr. Rodstrom, were not deliberating over public business, but were merely obtaining information from Mr. Rodstrom regarding the potential benefits to the Township of a conservation easement, the trustees met with him in an information-gathering capacity only. Because of this, none of the one-on-one sessions were required to be conducted in an open meeting. The court therefore held that because no “meeting” under R.C. 121.22(B)(2) and no “deliberations” under R.C. 121.22(A) could have taken place, the trial court did not err in granting appellees’ motions to dismiss.

Radtke v. Chester Twp., 44 N.E.3d 295 (OH App. 2015)

 


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