SIDNEY — A complaint filed with the Shelby County Commissioners concerning the Shelby County Board of Elections has been resolved — but not to the satisfaction of the man filing the complaint.
On Jan. 28, R. Michael Johnson, of Sidney, filed a complaint alleging the board of elections had violated the Ohio Open Meetings Act after its meeting earlier that day. In his complaint, Johnson said, “The board members all sat at their table and continued to discuss local election-related matters.” He asked the commissioners to direct the “prosecutor to advise the board of elections to cease and desist” its actions.
The commissioners referred the complaint to the Shelby County Prosecutor’s office. Prosecutor Tim Sell responded to the commissioners who then responded to Johnson, including a copy of Sell’s letter.
In his response to the complaint, Sell wrote in a letter to the commissioners that “no violation of the Open Meetings Act occurred. The alleged discussion that occurred pursuant to the complainant’s fact pattern, even if true, WAS NOT a public meeting as defined under the Ohio Open Records law. A public meeting must be prearranged. Nothing in the fact pattern presented indicates this discussion was prearranged. Rather, it was an impromptu conversation, and the law is clear that unplanned discussions are not a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
“Further, and most importantly, the Ohio Open Meetings Act is intended to apply to situations where formal action is taken by a public body outside of a public meeting. The allegations here do not indicate that any formal action was taken by the Board as a result of this alleged ‘meeting.’ Rather, the fact pattern implies that the Board members conversed regarding previous decisions of the Board and unrelated entities. No formal deliberations took place and no action was contemplated, taken or even implied,” wrote Sell.
“Our office regularly advises Shelby County’s boards on how best to comply with Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, and I can assure you these boards take great care to ensure that the citizens of Shelby County have an open and accountable government. In turn, citizens should take care to avoid defaming or tarnishing the reputation of those boards that are in compliance with Ohio’s Sunshine Laws,” concluded Sell in his letter.
After receiving Sell’s letter, Johnson said, “While I understand Prosecutor Sell’s interpretation of ORC 122.22, I respectfully disagree — drawing on more than three decades in the news business as a reporter, editor and publisher in Ohio and throughout the United States. No matter whether the members of the board of elections acted in a premeditated manner, the fact remains that they gave the appearance of less-than-proper conduct, outside public view.
“The Ohio Sunshine Law was enacted to ensure the average citizen the right to openly watch how his or her government works. I continue to believe the board of elections fell short of at least the intent of the law in discussing election- and political-related matters after adjourning its meeting last week,” Johnson said.
“The next step in this process would be to seek injunctive relief through the Court of Common Pleas. However, I can see no public benefit in costing the taxpayers of Shelby County even more money on litigation involving the Board of Elections than it has already spent — and is currently spending — in defense of largely indefensible actions,” Johnson continued.
“I completely understand the functions of the office of the Shelby County Prosecutor. I decided to file a complaint with the County Commissioners after I approached Mr. Sell and he seemed wholly uninterested in even discussing my grievance. I commend the Commissioners for at least being willing to listen to my concerns as a citizen of Shelby County and truly acting as public servants,” Johnson concluded.
In the commissioner’s letter to Johnson, they stated, “We are satisfied that the matter has been reviewed and there will not need to be any further action.” The letter was signed by all three commissioners, Julie Eheman, Bob Guillozet and Tony Bornhorst.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.