Created on Monday, 29 July 2013 Written by AP
CINCINNATI (AP) — The University of Cincinnati board of trustees is the latest public body to raises questions by holding private discussions ahead of officially open meetings.
Board chairman Fran Barrett says the discussions are informational and meant to prepare trustees for their meeting. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported (http://cin.ci/16fT96O) that comments in open meetings indicate trustees have been going over university business beforehand. One example cited came in February during official discussion of expanding the UC Bearcats' campus football stadium, with two trustees indicating they had already established approval for paying for design work, before the public meeting.
"I believe that we discussed yesterday that we would bring in outside consultants," said trustee Gary Heiman.
Such bodies are allowed to discuss certain matters behind closed doors. Ohio's open meetings law grants exemptions in areas such as personnel actions, labor negotiations, and litigation.
But open-government advocates see pre-meetings being used to get around requirements that most business being discussed and conducted publicly.
"If they need to discuss or be briefed on the issue in private, they're saying, 'We don't trust you, the public, to be part of that,' " said Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri.
An appeals court recently sent back to Warren County for more study a lawsuit alleging that a longstanding practice of Clearcreek Township trustees gathering in the township administrator's office before public meetings violates Ohio's law. The Enquirer has tangled in the past with Cincinnati city officials over small-group meetings in which public business was discussed.
A southwest Ohio senator is promoting legislation to close possible loopholes in the state law.
"What I see around the state is court decisions kind of chipping away at the (open meetings) legislation," said Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro. Her bill would require "all consideration or discussion of public business only in open meetings" unless the subject is exempted under the law.
"But at the end of the day, my view is we have to err on the side of openness in order to preserve the credibility of government that we funding," Jones said.
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com