A Government Relations Bulletin
On February 16, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled that privately organized working groups of business leaders, government employees and private citizens working on a governmental transition are not “public bodies” or “public offices” as those terms are defined in state law, and are not subject to the requirements of Ohio’s open meetings and public records statutes. State ex rel. Am. Civ. Liberties Union of Ohio, Inc. v. Cuyahoga Cty. Bd. of Commrs., Slip Opinion No. 2011-Ohio-625
The Court ruled that the Transition Executive Committee (TEC), a privately organized advisory group working on the Cuyahoga County restructuring, was not a public body, thus not obligated to provide documents under Ohio’s Public Records Act. R.C. 149.43. The Court noted that TEC was apparently following the state’s open meetings law by opening its meetings to the public and posting meeting minutes on the Cuyahoga County government Web site, but declined to issue a writ ordering the organization to follow those procedures for all its future meetings.
The suit arose following the adoption by Cuyahoga County voters in November 2009 of a county charter that replaced the former three-member board of commissioners with an elected county executive and council, and made other significant changes in the structure and organization of county government beginning in January 2010. The charter created a Transition Advisory Group (TAG) made up of three senior administrative officials whose duty it was to develop recommendations for an “orderly and efficient transition” from the old to the new county government structure.
In February 2010, after it was announced that TEC’s workgroups were being formed and would be developing transition recommendations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) filed a public records request with the County Commissioners seeking, among other items: copies of policies and procedures used in the formation of “any committees, subcommittees or workgroups established by or under the TAG;” lists of the names of all volunteers serving on the workgroups; full copies of the minutes to “all TAG and subcommittee meetings that have already been held,” and full copies of “any documents or reports created by TAG or any of its subcommittees.”
Significantly, the Court found that neither the County nor TAG created TEC or the workgroups, that TAG did not delegate any of its charter-mandated duties to TEC or the workgroups, and that TEC received no guidance or direction from TAG. In addition county employees who served on TEC were not given any official authority to direct the group or make decision on behalf of TEC. The Court denied the requested writs based on its determination that TEC and its workgroups do not qualify as public entities subject to the open meetings and public records statutes.