“Information is the currency of democracy.”
The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies in Ohio to conduct all official business in open meetings that the public may attend and observe. Public bodies must provide advance notice to the public indicating when and where each meeting will take place, and in the case of special meetings, the specific topics that will be discussed. In most cases, full and accurate minutes of the meetings must be taken and made available to the public, except in the case of closed-door sessions.
Closed-door sessions, or executive sessions, are convened by a public body after a vote, and attended by only the members of the public body and persons they invite. Executive sessions may be held for only a few specific purposes, and no vote or other decision on the matter(s) discussed may take place during the executive session.
If any person believes that a public body has violated the Open Meetings Act, that person may file an injunctive action in the common pleas court to compel the public body to obey the Act. If an injunction is issued, the public body must correct its actions and pay court costs, a fine of $500, and reasonable attorney fees, subject to possible reduction by the court. If the court does not issue an injunction, and the court finds that the lawsuit was frivolous, it may order the person who filed the suit to pay the public body’s court costs and reasonable attorney fees. Any action taken by a public body while that body is in violation of the Open Meetings Act is invalid. A member of a public body who violates an injunction imposed for a violation of the Open Meetings Act may be subject to removal from office.
The Open Meetings Act—like the Public Records Act, its companion “sunshine law”—is intended to be read broadly in favor of openness. By its language, the Act is to be liberally construed to require public officials to take official action and to conduct all official business only in open meetings, unless the subject matter is specifically excepted by law. Although the Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act share an underlying intent and both may apply in a given set of circumstances, the terms and definitions of the two laws are not interchangeable: the Public Records Act applies to the records of public offices; the Open Meetings Act addresses meetings of public bodies.