Toledo judge finds university in violation of open meetings law

OHIO — A trial court judge sided with a University of Toledo student and the local newspaper in his May decision to open the school’s athletic director search committee meetings to the public.”It is indisputable that the search committee did not conduct its deliberations in open meetings as required by all public bodies,” Judge Robert Christiansen wrote in The Toledo Blade v. The University of Toledo, No. 96-0876 (Ohio Ct. C.P., Lucas Cty., May 15, 1996).”Since the committee is a public body, the court concludes that respondents have violated the Open Meetings Law,” he wrote.The Ohio Open Meetings Law requires public officials to take “official action” and “conduct all deliberations” in meetings the public has access to.”The policy in this state is that the public’s business must be conducted in the sunshine,” Judge Christiansen stated, “not only to protect against potential abuse by governmental bodies, but also to maintain the public’s confidence in its officials.” The University of Toledo argued that the search committee was not a public body because its members were appointed by the president, who alone is not a public body under the law.Andrew Curliss, projects editor of the Collegian, the school’s student newspaper, was not admitted to a meeting on Feb. 2 and neither he nor a Toledo Blade reporter were admitted to a March 12 meeting.”It’s always nice when two newspapers can get together to fight for access to meetings,” Curliss said. “Next time something like this comes up, we can say we have a court ruling saying, ‘Look, this is an open meeting.'”Curliss said the ruling was a victory for newspapers and journalists in the state, but was not sure how it would be viewed in the future.”Whether all university committees are committees ‘of a public body’ is not an issue before this Court,” Judge Christiansen wrote. “So, the application of this opinion is restricted to the search committee for athletic director.”Curliss said the University would most likely not appeal the decision, but nothing had been communicated on the issue.”It is my hunch that the University won’t appeal,” he said.The Blade and Curliss also claimed the university violated the public records law by failing to make all search committee records available for public inspection. The court granted additional time to rule on this alleged violation.