Opinion: At the February 25 meeting of Beavercreek City Council, Mayor Vann said, “I don’t think it’s even required that we keep minutes for work sessions.” According to the Ohio Revised Code, that’s not correct.

Ohio Revised Code is very clear on the matter of public meetings and making sure there’s a record of what is discussed. ORC 121.22 (C) states the following: “The minutes of a regular or special meeting of any public body shall be promptly prepared, filed, and maintained and shall be open to public inspection.”

And whether you call it a regular meeting, special meeting, retreat or work session, it doesn’t matter. The law is also very clear with respect as to what constitutes a meeting. According to ORC 121.22 (B)(2) “Meeting” means any prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members. Work sessions fit that definition. It couldn’t be any clearer. Executive sessions are the only exception.

The issue of what is being discussed at work sessions didn’t surface as a problem until last year when the city stopped posting the minutes from work sessions on it’s website entirely. Overall the posting of work session minutes on the city’s website has always been spotty at best, but 2007 was the year when none were posted at all. The minutes are still open to public inspection by taking a trip to city hall, but one has to wonder why they are not posted on the web for all to easily access and read.

The city is not doing themselves any favors with this practice. By selectively posting minutes from some meetings and not others, the city only fosters public distrust. People can’t help but wonder why those minutes are not being included. Absent any rational explanation, people are left to come to their own conclusions. Why even open the door to such speculation? No wonder there are those who distrust their public officials.

It’s nice to know that some on City Council are starting to take the issue seriously. The issue recently came up at the February 25 meeting of City Council when council member Tom Leonard asked why the approval of work session meeting minutes, that he expected to see on the agenda, were not listed. City Manager Mike Cornell said that traditionally work session minutes are approved at the next work session and not at regular meetings. Council member Jarrod Martin asked, “In the interest of making sure that we have open government, would anybody be opposed to changing that and to do those in public meetings… I mean they’re all public meetings, but to do them at a regular scheduled (meeting).” Council member Scott Hadley agreed saying, “Mr. Martin that was my purpose for not wanting to do it at the last work session meeting. So that we could do it tonight.” It was shortly thereafter, Mayor Julie Vann made the comment that inspired this editorial. Vann said, “I don’t think it’s even required that we keep minutes for work sessions.”

While I’m inclined to give Mayor Vann the benefit of the doubt on this one, it is very disturbing to hear a statement like that from one of our elected officials, especially the Mayor. I don’t think she was advocating that minutes no longer be taken at work sessions. She probably sees the work sessions as more of an exercise in fact gathering than as official meetings. But they are meetings just the same, or to quote from Ohio Revised Code, a “prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members”. As such they are subject to all the rules set forth by the laws of the State of Ohio, including the taking of minutes.

No one is saying that City Council shouldn’t have work sessions or that they even need to televise those meetings. Just post the minutes from those meetings at the city’s website along with the others. Make them easy to access so we all can see what’s being discussed without taking a trip down to city hall. Why is that so hard?

Craig Barhorst