Olentangy Valley News

Open-meetings law

Judge rejects Olentangy board member's claim

Board president says legal battle may cost district up to $15,000

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A Delaware County judge has rejected an Olentangy school board member's claim that his fellow board members violated state open-meetings law.

Board member Adam White filed suit April 25, 2013, against fellow board members Stacy Dunbar, Julie Wagner Feasel, Dave King and Kevin O'Brien, claiming their email conversation regarding a response to a Columbus Dispatch editorial violated Ohio's open-meetings law.

O'Brien, the school board's president, said he was "very excited (and) very pleased" with the summary judgment ruling but added he was "disappointed we had to spend so much time and energy defending something that was baseless."

White could not be reached for comment. He has until Feb. 16 to file an appeal.

O'Brien said the legal fight could cost the district between $10,000 and $15,000. He said a final number will not be known until attorney fees are finalized and insurance claims are resolved.

Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Everett Krueger ruled Jan. 16 that because there was "no prearranged discussion between the defendants," there was no violation of the open-meetings law. He wrote that King had sent an unsolicited email to his co-defendants, which does not constitute a public meeting.

The defendants also argued that, as elected officials, they are immune from civil liability unless their actions are "outside the scope of the employee's ... official responsibilities, the acts were done with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or a wanton or reckless manner." Krueger ruled that the defendants were entitled to immunity because White's complaint did not convince him otherwise.

According to court records, the lawsuit sprung from the response to White's investigation of "alleged improper expenditures" by two district athletic directors, which resulted in one director's resignation and both reimbursing the district.

The board voted Sept. 25, 2012, to require communication between board members and district employees to pass through the district's administration. White voted against the measure, which was criticized in an Oct. 11 Dispatch editorial.

King, who was the board's president at the time, then began emailing his fellow board members, excluding White, to discuss issuing a statement to defend the measure in response to the editorial.

O'Brien said he did not think the board has a problem with following state open-meetings and open-records laws. He said the board would continue to work to make any improvements in the area that it can.

"As a board, we do our best to be as transparent as we can," O'Brien said. "We always can improve the frequency and quality of our communications with the community."

O'Brien said he's not confident the board members named in the suit can improve their relationships with White. He said the board has tried to be inclusive of White, who has clashed with the board and the district's administration multiple times since he was elected in November 2011.

"It just doesn't seem like (White) has the same desire to serve that we do," O'Brien said.

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