Olentangy Valley News

Two groups step up, back White's claims against school board

Board member appeals judge's ruling that emails did not constitute public meeting

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Two nonpartisan civic organizations agree with an Olentangy school board member that the board violated open-meetings law in 2012.

Board member Adam White sued his fellow board members April 25, 2013, claiming email conversations they had about a response to a newspaper editorial violated state open-meetings law. Delaware Court of Common Pleas Judge Everett Krueger rejected that claim in a Jan. 16 ruling, which White later appealed.

On April 7, White moved for an appeals court to allow Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting his appeal.

In the brief, the groups said they do not "take a position on plaintiff's claims against the individual board members but only wish to be heard in opposition to the trial court's ruling that the Ohio Open Meetings Statute was not violated by the Olentangy Local School District Board of Education."

The case centers around the board's response to an Oct. 11, 2012, editorial by The Columbus Dispatch that praised White and admonished the four other board members. The editorial lauded White for voting against a rule that required communication between board members and district employees be approved by the district's administration.

A short time later, Dave King, the board's president at the time, emailed his fellow board members, excluding White, to begin planning a joint response to the editorial.

White claims the board members' actions were a violation of open-meetings law.

In his ruling, Krueger wrote that the board had not violated open-meetings law because there was "no prearranged discussion between the defendants." He said the conversation was the result of an unsolicited email sent by King to fellow board members and, therefore, did not constitute a public meeting.

Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio disagree, arguing the board members discussed public business and came to a conclusion outside of a public meeting.

"Unless the judgment entry is reversed, all public bodies throughout the state of Ohio will be allowed to conduct all public business in private provided they later ratify such private deliberations at a public meeting," the groups wrote in their brief. "That outcome would eviscerate the clear language and legislative intent of the statute."

White's attorney, Phil Harmon, released a statement after the friend-of-the-court brief was filed, stressing the case's importance throughout the state.

"We welcome the support of Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio, two of the most-important public-policy advocacy groups in the state," Harmon said. "The open-meetings law is critical to a free democracy and the involvement by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters shows this is a case of great public interest."

Kevin O'Brien, the board's current president, said the friend-of-the-court brief did not change his position on the case. After Krueger's initial ruling, O'Brien said White's suit was "baseless" and a drain on district resources.

"While I respect (the groups') input and their opportunity to provide that, that doesn't change the facts that Judge Krueger decided on," O'Brien said.

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