The Ohio Open Meetings Act
The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies in Ohio to take official action and conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings where 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 meeting in special meetings, the specific topics that the public body will discuss. The public body must take full and accurate minutes of all meetings and make these minutes available to the public, except in the case of permissible executive sessions.
Executive sessions are closed-door sessions convened by a public body, after a roll call vote, and attended by only the members of the public body and persons they invite. A public body may hold an executive session only for a few specific purposes. Further, no vote or other decision-making 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 action in a 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 the lawsuit frivolous, it may order the person who filed the suit to pay the public body’s court costs and reasonable attorney fees. Any formal action of a public body that did not take place in an open meeting, or that resulted from deliberations in a meeting improperly not open to the public, or that was adopted at a meeting not properly noticed to the public, 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.
Like the Public Records Act, the Open Meetings Act is intended to be read broadly in favor of openness. However, while they share an underlying intent, the terms and definitions in 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.