Olentangy Valley News

Adam White

Olentangy board member appeals judge's ruling

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An Olentangy school board member will continue his legal fight against fellow board members whom he claims broke public-meetings law.

Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Everett Krueger ruled against Adam White on Jan. 16, granting the defendants' request for summary judgment and ruling in their favor. White appealed the ruling to the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals on Feb. 13 -- three days before his window to appeal the decision closed.

White initially filed suit against board members Stacy Dunbar, Julie Wagner Feasel, Dave King and Kevin O'Brien on April 25, 2013.

In his ruling, Krueger wrote that an email conversation among board members discussing a response to a newspaper editorial did not constitute a public meeting. He also wrote the board members were entitled to political subdivision immunity in the case.

In his appeal, White claims that Krueger erred by strictly interpreting Ohio's open-meetings statute.

According to Krueger's ruling, the statute says a meeting is "any prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members."

While all of the board members except White participated in the email conversation about a reply to the editorial, Krueger ruled that the conversation was started by an unsolicited email by one board member, which did not constitute prearranged discussion.

White's appeal claims Krueger's interpretation of what constitutes "prearranged discussion" under the law was too restrictive.

The appeal also claims there was an error in the findings of fact from the original trial.

The lawsuit resulted from the aftermath of White's 2012 investigation of "alleged improper expenditures" by two Olentangy athletic directors.

In the aftermath of the investigation, the board approved a measure by a 4-1 vote requiring the administration's approval of communication between board members and district staff. A Columbus Dispatch editorial published in October 2012 criticized the board's decision and praised White for voting against the measure.

King, then the board's president, later emailed his fellow board members, excluding White, about writing a joint response to the editorial.

White claimed in his suit that King's email and the resulting conversation constituted an illegal meeting of a public board.

O'Brien, the board's current president, has said the lawsuit is baseless and may already have cost the district between $10,000 and $15,000 in legal fees. The appeals process likely will add to those costs.

"The appeal will prolong this litigation by several months," O'Brien said last week.

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