Justices will decide if Olentangy board met illegally via email

From The Columbus Dispatch The Ohio Supreme Court will determine if the Olentangy school board illegally circumvented open-meetings laws when school board members exchanged emails ahead of an eventual decision.

The court today accepted the appeal of Adam White, a school board member who accuses his colleagues of illegally “deliberating” via email in making a decision out of public view.

White is appealing an appeals court decision upholding a trial court decision that the Delaware County school board did not meet illegally.

Allowing the prior rulings to stand “sets a dangerous precedent which allows all public agencies in the state to avoid the Sunshine Law simply by deliberating electronically, rather than in person,” White argued in his filing.

The case centers on the four school board members — White was excluded — writing one another to authorize a letter to the editor of The Dispatch in response to an editorial criticizing a new board policy White viewed as aimed at him.

After White’s investigation uncovered misspending by two high-school athletic directors, the board passed a policy requiring its members to communicate with employees only through the superintendent or treasurer.

On the day White filed his illegal-meeting lawsuit in April 2013, the board voted to approve the letter to the editor sent six months earlier. A judge subsequently dismissed White’s lawsuit, and an appellate court upheld the dismissal that found the emails were not a prearranged discussion of public business.

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government, Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief on Monday supporting White’s appeal.

Cleveland lawyer David Marburger, the author of the brief supporting White, wrote that “the Sunshine Law’s democracy-sustaining purpose cannot survive if a quorum of a public body can retreat to their email inboxes” to avoid scrutiny.

The school board argues that the exchange of emails did not constitute an illegal prearranged discussion of public business.