“They can look at the property,” he said. “But did City Council mean to evade the Sunshine Laws? There is no evidence of deliberations, only a tour of the building.”
The Ohio 4th District Court of Appeals on Thursday heard oral arguments regarding Bob and Teresa Mollette's suit against City Council over the $1.9 million purchase.
In 2004, Scioto County Common Pleas Court Judge William Marshall voided the sale because City Council met in two groups of three with Johnson.
Marshall also banned the council from meeting in executive session until voters approve a city charter change to do so. That means its members cannot meet privately to discuss issues like property purchases and personnel issues.
Hust said Marshall erred in making that ruling.
But presiding Judge William Harsha said he was concerned about the Council deciding to buy the building outside of a public meeting.
Marshall also said Council members' votes to buy the building at the May 28 meeting were prearranged after talking with Johnson.
Additionally, Marshall ordered the city to pay the Mollette's legal fees in filing the suit.
The fees were then $18,317.70. But Teresa Mollette said they are now about $30,000.
The city is appealing Marshall's ruling.
Mollettes' attorney, Joe Griffith, said the sale was not discussed in public meetings. He also said City Clerk Jo Ann Aeh had no record of the issue being discussed in executive session. But Griffith said some Council members said the sale was discussed in those sessions.
“Something is wrong when the clerk says there were no executive session meetings on the sale and City Council says there were two or three,” Griffith said. “Something is not right.”
He said the public had a right to know about the negotiations.
“This was a $2 million purchase in a small community,” Griffith said. “It was a hotly-contested issue.”
Halcomb said there was a question and answer session with the foundation while touring the building, Smith said. But Hust said asking questions would not violate the Sunshine Laws.
“Public bodies are privileged to have some meetings shielded,” he said.
The court made no ruling after the hearing. Once it does rule, the losing party can then appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
City Council in 2002 was comprised of current Mayor Jim Kalb, current City Council President Howard Baughman, Ann Sydnor, Raymond Pyles, Carol Caudill and Barbara Halcomb.
Greg Bauer was the mayor at the time.
Kalb later said if Bauer presented City Council with accurate information about the building, he would not have voted for it.
But Kalb now supports renovating the building.
Bauer, Sydnor and Caudill have since been recalled.
JEFF BARRON can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.