Weeks after releasing plans for Mayfield Road, Mayfield Heights fumbles to explain why meetings were held privately

From The Plain Dealer For five months, Mayfield Heights has been privately planning a new 15-acre shopping complex on Mayfield Road, shocking and upsetting business owners and residents who found out about the plans through the media. Now, some good government experts say the secret sessions could violate the Sunshine Laws, and the city is struggling to explain why they were kept under wraps.

Architecture firm URS Corp. and developer the Coral Co. met with Mayor Anthony DiCicco, Council President Gayle Teresi, council members Joe Mercurio, Don Manno, Bob DeJohn and Susan Sabetta; and several other city officials and residents including the service, building, finance and recreation directors to plan the redevelopment.

The majority of council members attended three of the four meetings, and at least two of them were "seated in the audience," the minutes note. The only members who did not attend were Paul Sciria and Nino Monaco.

DeJohn said he did not know the meetings were private.

"That was the mayor's call," he said.

Law Director Paul Murphy explained: "I'm their lawyer and it wasn't a public meeting, because it was not a meeting of council."

Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, called the lack of public information "very problematic."

Even if council members were not there, Hetzel said, the strategic planning committee itself could be subject to open meetings laws, because the law defines a public body as "any board, commission, committee, council or similar decision-making body of a state agency, institution or authority."

"If they are keeping minutes, that is circumstantial evidence they agreed it's a public body. It's not at Bob Evans shooting the breeze," he said. "You have all the council members being invited to this meeting, so that makes it even clearer."

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