Public Meetings vs. Executive Session

August 20, 1999

Ohio's Open Meetings Act 1 dictates that public bodies may take official action and conduct deliberations upon official business only in open meetings. Any board, commission, committee, or similar decision-making body of a county, township, municipal corporation, school district or other political subdivision is a "public body." A "meeting" is a prearranged gathering of a majority of the members of a public body to discuss or conduct public business. Some courts have found that a gathering of the members of a public body is not a meeting where they only act as passive observers in a ministerial fact-gathering capacity or informational setting. However, a "work session," where public business is discussed by a majority of the members of a public body, is a meeting and must be open to the public.

Public bodies are also responsible for giving the public adequate notice of their meetings. Depending upon the type of meeting to be held, the Open Meetings Act has specific requirements for the type of notice to be provided to the public. For regular meetings that are held at prescheduled intervals, the public body must establish a rule that allows the public to determine the time and place of those meetings. If special meetings are to be held, a rule must be established which will allow the public to determine the time, place, and purpose of such a meeting. That rule must include a provision for at least 24 hours advance notice to all media outlets that have requested such notification.

The only exception to these public meeting requirements is "executive session." A majority of a quorum of the members of a public body may vote, by roll call, to adjourn into executive session to discuss certain private matters. The motion to adjourn into executive session must specify the type of matters which are to be discussed, and the reasons for an executive session must be limited to the purposes described in the statute 2, including:

Once a public body has adjourned into executive session, the members may be required to keep secret the matters discussed. Ohio law dictates:

"No present or former public official or employee shall disclose or use, without appropriate authorization, any information acquired by the public official or employee in the course of the public official's or employee's official duties that is confidential because of statutory provisions, or that has been clearly designated to the public official or employee as confidential when that confidential designation is warranted because of the status of the proceedings or the circumstances under which the information was received and preserving its confidentiality is necessary to the proper conduct of government business." 3

Violation of these confidentiality requirements could result in imprisonment of six months and a fine of $1,000.00. Remember: that which is public should remain public, and that which is confidential should be kept secret.

1 Ohio Revised Code 121.22.
2 Ohio Revised Code 121.22(G).
3 Ohio Revised Code 102.03(B).
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