The Fifth District Court of Appeals (Delaware County) recently issued a decision in White v. King, 2014-Ohio-3896, and ruled that emails between individual board members did not violate Ohio’s Sunshine Law. Board member, Adam White, sued his fellow Board members after the Board passed a resolution to amend one of its policies and require all communications between Board members and staff to
first be addressed with the Superintendent or Treasurer. Mr. White voted against the resolution. His opposition was the subject of a favorable editorial in the Columbus Dispatch. The remaining Board members determined a written response to the editorial was needed and proceeded to discuss their ideas and options with one another by email. The final response was submitted to the newspaper and published with no input from Mr. White. At that point, Mr. White brought a legal action alleging the Board members violated the Sunshine Law.
In order to succeed on a claimed violation of the Open Meetings or Sunshine Law, R.C. Section 121.22, a plaintiff must prove there was: (1) a pre-arranged, (2) discussion, (3) of the public business of the public body, (4) by a majority of its members. In making a
determination there was no Sunshine Law violation, the court wrote, “[We] conclude that if the General Assembly had intended to include sporadic emails in the statutory definition of ‘meeting,’ it would
have said so.” It further noted that, at the time the email exchanges occurred, there was no pending resolution or rule before the board and that “the mere discussion of an issue of public concern does not mean there was discussion under the statute.”