PORTSMOUTH — A battle of words wages between Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis and the Portsmouth City Health Department, who he believes is in violation of several state and federal laws.
In a letter addressed to City Solicitor John R. Haas, Davis said PCHD had gathered illegally and passed an unlawful resolution on July 22 based on the Ohio Open Meeting Act and House Bill 197.
“During the Public Hearing section of the meeting, which was very early in the meeting, I took the time to state these facts and you ignored me,” wrote Davis. “Based on these violations, the entire meeting was null & void including any decision made by the PCHD Board during the meeting.”
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s website, public bodies, when discussing or voting on a matter of public consideration, must conduct “all public business in open meetings that the public may attend and observe.”
Public departments are required to give the community notice when, where, and regarding what if they have scheduled a meeting. The three types of meetings; regular, special, and emergency, all mandate that media outlets are informed of an upcoming session.
Davis said he and others searched on social media, local newspapers, the public bulletin board at the City Health Department, and their website for any notice. He said he could not find any information.
There is no mention of last week’s meeting on PCHD’s Facebook page, yet media coverage did mention it on July 17. In a prior article from The Portsmouth Daily Times, Interim PCHD Administrator Belinda Leslie said the department would “reconvene and consider new safety methods to allow groups to use local parks,” on July 22.
The Daily Times reached out to the solicitor’s office to determine whether this statement qualifies as a sufficient public notice, but Haas said he had not received the letter from Davis. After sending him a copy of the Davis letter, the solicitor had no comment other than there is “no story.”
Under more typical times, these meetings would require public, in-person attendance to signify it was truly open to the community. The coronavirus caused this to change, Governor Mike DeWine signing House Bill 197 to grant public bodies the ability to hold meetings remotely with transparency.
The meeting was only part of the issue for Davis, which he said all resolutions passed should be considered null and void. One resolution he found particularly troubling granted PCHD the ability to suspend a retail food establishment’s license if its violations present “a clear and present danger to the public health.”
Citing Chapter 3717.29 of the Ohio Revised Code, which went into effect in 2001, Resolution 20-05 passed on a 5-0 vote and does not order the PCHD to give the establishment a written notice of their suspension or provide it a chance to fix the injunction.
Davis calls the resolution unconstitutional and says due process was not upheld. He argues this after a Judge in Ashland County ruled in favor of Cattlemans, a restaurant in Savannah, Ohio, who had its license revoked after employees were seen without masks by local health department workers.
Judge Ronald P. Forsthoefel overruled the department’s orders and reinstated the restaurant, saying civil liberties had been denied and the allowances of the state’s Dine Safe Ohio Order had not been fully applied.
Starting May 21, the order required all restaurant workers to wear masks with several exceptions. Through documentation, these institutions could justify not using face coverings if:
a.” Facial coverings in the work setting are prohibited by law or regulation;
b. Facial coverings are in violation of documented industry standards;
c. Facial coverings are not advisable for health reasons;
d. Facial coverings are in violation of the business’s documented safety policies;
e. Facial coverings are not required when the employee works alone in an assigned work area; or
f. There is a functional (practical) reason for an employee not to wear a facial covering in the workplace.”
Director of Environmental Health Andrew Gedeon said conversations will take place between PCHD and the Solicitor’s Office as to whether or not a lack of masks constitutes a clear and present danger prior to their next meeting on August 26.
“Our great Republic holds due process as an essential foundation stone of our individual liberties,” Davis wrote. “This is a clear violation of due process and draconian in nature.”
Davis also continued his push to allow a local church to use Mound Park on the grounds that the US and state constitutions “provide specific carve-outs for religious exercise.” PCHD stopped issuing permits for groups to use area parks on July 8 after groups had failed to wear masks or social distance.
Davis plans on being in touch with Haas soon and is considering taking different routes to achieve a favorable outcome.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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