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Court broadens minutes requirements for public bodies

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Court broadens minutes requirements for public bodies09/09/96 OHIO--A late-August state Supreme Court decision guarantees Ohio citizens a permanent written record…

Court broadens minutes requirements for public bodies

09/09/96

OHIO–A late-August state Supreme Court decision guarantees Ohio citizens a permanent written record that explains how public officials do business.

The Court stated that the record of any meeting must be “full and accurate” and “contain sufficient facts and information to permit the public to understand and appreciate the rationale behind the relevant public body’s decision.”

The high court reasoned that detailed public records provide a history of the difficult governmental decision-making process, giving the public a better understanding of why unpopular decisions are sometimes necessary. In addition, public understanding of the rationale behind governmental decisions is necessary if those decisions are to be criticized or challenged, and full and accurate records allow members of the public who cannot attend the meetings to have the necessary information to evaluate governmental actions, the court held.

In March 1993, the Clinton County Board of Commissioners adopted a policy that prevented building inspectors from performing joint inspections with other agencies, including the Health Department, without the board’s prior written approval. Lizabeth White, the Director of the Clinton County Health Department’s Environmental Division, asked for the record of that board meeting, but the record provided was incomplete, containing no reference to the inspection policy.

White sued in June 1993 alleging that the board did not “promptly and accurately record its policies, decisions, procedures and essential transactions” in violation of state law. In August 1994, the trial court ordered the board to prepare and release full minutes of the meeting to satisfy the records requirements of state law. The board appealed to the Court of Appeals in Wilmington, arguing that state law did not require it to maintain detailed minutes of its meetings. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the trial court’s decision.

In reversing, the high court found that a law requiring that “the clerk of the board of county commissioners shall keep a full record of the proceedings of the board,” together with the state Public Records Act and the state Sunshine Statute, impose a duty on all boards of county commissioners to maintain full and accurate records of their proceedings.

The laws clearly establish a legal right for White to the information she sought and a legal duty for the board to provide the information, according to the high court. The Court reinstated the trial court’s order to provide White with full and accurate minutes of the meeting in which the inspection policy was adopted. (White v. Clinton County Board of Commissioners; Media Counsel: David Marburger, Cleveland)