G. Sam Piatt
May 20, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Oftentimes when Portsmouth City Council calls for an executive session, the reason given is “to discuss legal issues.” Now, if Ohio Senate Bill 93 passes, that may not be enough.
Senator Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, has introduced a bill that would take steps to require governing bodies to be clearer and more specific when they give a reason to meet out of the public eye. That bill also would require more details in minutes kept as a part of any executive session. In addition it would make it easier to collect attorney fees if someone sues for enforcement of the law.
The measure would enlarge the types of discussions covered by state laws and require a better explanation to the public as to why they choose to work outside public exposure.
The Ohio Newspaper Association says one of the major concerns the newspaper industry has had with Ohio’s open meeting law is that it leaves a lot of “wiggle-room,” for public bodies to be overly vague and even evasive about the reasons they go into executive sessions.
“These are all good ideas, and we look forward to working with Senator Jones and others to support the measure,” Dennis Hetzel, Executive Director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said.
The bill would obviously have an impact on local entities such as Portsmouth City Council.
“As you know, I have — even before being elected to Council — always stressed that government err on the side of transparency whenever and wherever possible,” First Ward City Councilman Kevin Johnson said. “This proposed SB-93, introduced by Senator Shannon Jones, has yet to be analyzed by Senate staff and has just recently been assigned to the State Government Oversight & Reform Committee, so… I shall withhold firm support until a final bill hits the House and Senate as one never knows what amendments might be offered.”
Johnson did say The bill will require more bookkeeping on the part of City Clerk Diane Ratliff, but, he adds, it should allay constant fear among some of the citizens that executive sessions are being over-utilized or perhaps not being utilized as announced.
“In this regard, however, I have never — since joining Council — experienced such during any executive session,” Johnson said.
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