Olentangy Valley News

Groups that joined White's fight rebuffed by district

Emails do not constitute prearranged meeting, attorney says

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Claims by two nonprofits that the district's school board violated open-meetings law are "based upon incorrect assumptions," according to a legal response filed last week by the Olentangy Local School District.

The district and four members of its board currently are locked in a legal battle with board member Adam White over the board's response to a October 2012 newspaper editorial. That letter of response was ratified by the board six months after it was written, according to court records.

White sued the district in April 2013, claiming his four fellow board members violated state law by using email to discuss their response to The Columbus Dispatch's editorial, which was critical of a new district policy.

A Delaware County judge rejected that claim in January, but White appealed the decision in February.

In April, a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the nonpartisan civics groups Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio sided with White.

The groups wrote in the brief that if the original decision was upheld, public bodies in Ohio could "conduct all public business in private, provided they later ratify such private deliberations at a public meeting."

The groups said unless the ruling was reversed, it would "eviscerate the clear language and legislative intent" of Ohio's open-meetings law.

In the district's response to the brief, filed April 29, attorney John Albert wrote that the brief does not follow the facts of the case previously laid before the court.

"Instead, the (brief) reads more like an 'editorial' and basically constitutes an expression of opinion based on incorrect assumptions of the alleged facts," he wrote.

Albert wrote that the brief is factually inaccurate because it assumes:

• the board's emails constituted a prearranged meeting.

• the board discussed a pending rule or resolution.

• Ohio's public-meetings law extends to electronic conversations.

According to the ruling by Judge Everett Krueger of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, the conversation was not prearranged because it was started by an unsolicited email from one board member to another. White contested that interpretation of the law in his appeal.

Albert wrote that the fact the board ratified the letter they discussed at a meeting that occurred six months later was "irrelevant" because it did not change the character of the initial emails.

Furthermore, Albert argued that legal precedent indicates email conversations are not subject to open-meetings law in Ohio. He also wrote that the Ohio legislature had a chance to include electronic conversations in the 2002 revision to the law but chose not to.

"As such, the position of (White) and (Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio) to expand Ohio's Sunshine Law beyond its current language and intent is better directed to the Ohio legislature," he wrote.

In their brief, Common Core Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio argued the board members "violated both the word and intent of Ohio open-meetings statute" when a majority of its members discussed and agreed on a policy statement outside of a public meeting.

The next hearing in the appeal has not yet been scheduled, according to court records.

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