In all the articles in the Plain Dealer about the current open meeting examination with the new County Council, I have not seen any discussion of or explanation of the open meeting requirements, period. You can see all the PD pieces here. No sidebar links, no three or four sentence paragraph explaining them, just assertions that the rules have been broken.
I know some PD folks read this blog and if in fact I’ve missed an explanation about open meetings law that you’ve run, I would be grateful for a correction – and I offer my apologies in advance. You know how inadequate that search function on cleveland.com is – but I could not find anything that looked like an explanation of open meetings law in relation to the County Council.
For now, here is a very simple FAQ from the Ohio Attorney General’s office about open meetings law in Ohio.
My understanding, based on my experience on a city council in addition to that FAQ and other Sunshine law information available, is that no more than five county council members can meet outside of a public meeting and without all the attendant open meeting requirements. This is what has given rise, at least in part, to the concern over a not public meeting between more than five of the Democrats on the County Council.
Yet one key piece of information has never, from what I have seen, been mentioned in any of these articles, and I believe it’s a significant and material fact: with only three Republican members of the County Council, those three can meet anytime, anywhere and about anything including County Council business without ever telling anyone or making their conversations public.
No where has the PD written that they’ve asked those three members if they’ve communicated about county business when not in the presence of the public or not in the presence of the Democrats, one, two or more (if it’s three or more, that would violate the open meetings law again).
I’m not saying that they have – I have no knowledge. I’m also not saying that they shouldn’t. What I’m saying is that as far as reporting goes and the constant suggestion that all is equal in this matter, well – that’s just not a complete or accurate portrayal of how this works, based again on my knowledge and experience (and if this is wrong, again, someone chime in):
The three Republicans, as a caucus, can meet without worrying about open meetings law because there are only three of them. The Democrats, of which there are eight, will never have that ability – because there are more than five of them.
Shouldn’t any journalist reporting on the carrying out or violating of the open meetings law explain this further, rather than give a very one-sided peek into how elected officials of political subdivisions try to function?
Just because the Democrats in the County Council may not be saints for what they did, without outlining why this issue does not even exist for the three Republicans is a disservice to readers and voters.
The Plain Dealer should be noting, especially in every single article attacking the lack of openness with which some of the County Council members have tried to pursue deliberations, where readers and voters can find the open meetings law, its basic requirements and the fact that the three Republicans, being only three, will never be under the same constraints in terms of getting on the same page with one another, that the Democrats have – since there are eight of them, unless they agree and tell us that they agree to hold themselves, even only numbering three, to the exact same expectations as the Democrats.
Then tell us if and how those three Republicans are communicating with just one another since election day. Shouldn’t we know that too?
That would give us a fair barometer for examining all of the newly elected officials in regard to their promises about transparency and openness.
Edited in: By the way, blogs are often ragged on because they “lack filters.” Well, in my opinion, the omission of this information regarding how the Republicans are communicating with one another is an example of how the traditional media filters work. I really hope I am wrong and that information has been in the PD repeatedly, so that we can see that the Democrats aren’t being attacked unfairly or overzealously and that the PD is pressing the three Republicans equally in regard to disclosing any and all non-public meetings they’ve been doing about county council business. Unless then the protection of the open meetings law is felt, by the PD, to be adequate enough to exempt those three – even if the spirit is supposed to be about favoring openness.
Another edit in: This is the kind of thing that really makes me think, “HOW BIASED!” So – there’s been no mention of what the open meetings law really requires and no sidebar in the PD about it. But today, there IS a sidebar about how to recall county council members. Come on PD. Tell us: did you ask the three Republicans what they’ve been doing for communicating since November 2? Have you asked them if they’ve discussed county council business among the three of them and not in public? When are you going to tell the readers that while the law allows them to do that because there are only three of them, that they too should be held to the same expectation of openness that you are suggesting must be demanded of the eight other elected officials – all of whom happen to be Democrats?