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Government & Politics

Ohio Supreme Court Says School Boards Can't Tweet or Text Their Way Around the Public Meetings Law

Terrence O'Donnell
OHIO SUPREME COURT

The Ohio Supreme Court says discussions by public bodies via phone, video, email, text or tweet are public meetings -- so long as those discussions follow other conditions set by Ohio’s Open Meetings law. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on today’s ruling.

The 5-2 ruling stemmed from a case in which four members of a Columbus-area school board held an email discussion and responded to a Columbus Dispatch editorial. The editorial had supported a fifth member’s attempt to investigate allegations of improper spending by district athletic directors.

The fifth board member, Adam White, wasn’t in on the discussion, nor was the public. He sued, and the state high court agreed that the board’s email exchange was by definition a prearranged discussion of public business by the majority of the board. That, it said, breaks the law just as much as a face-to-face discussion would.

The majority decision by Justice Terrence O’Donnell said nothing in state law says public meetings must be in person and exempting electronic meetings “subverts the purpose of the act,” which is to keep the public informed on how government does its business.

In dissenting, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger said it is up to the Legislature to decide if the Open Meetings Act applies to electronic communications.