Following its summer recess, City Council will decide whether to pass an ordinance that would allow the Avon Lake Planning Commission to enter into a private session to deliberate, and even vote, on whether to grant a waiver.
Law Director Abe Lieberman said state laws do not consider the deliberations of a quasi-judicial body to be a public meeting. While the meeting itself is public, he specified, the deliberations could be done privately, including a vote, which would be then made public with a record of who voted which way. Courts have ruled that when a body fulfills its quasi-judicial function, the deliberations, much like an appeals court or a supreme court, the body’s members may deliberate and vote in private. On the local level, he likened it to a board of zoning appeals or a county court of revision.
The request to council stems from the same planning commission and subsequent court case that spurred council’s lengthy subpoena ordinance debate. A planning commission applicant asked for a waiver to abstain from having to connect underground utilities along his property on a new street by having his house face the existing street, Lieberman said. This would have meant the person building a house next to this house would have had to pay for the installation of underground utilities for his or her own house along with the utilities needed to connect all the way to the existing street.
The planning commission denied the waiver, and the applicant appealed to the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas, which reversed the commission’s decision. Though the public deliberations of the planning commission were not formally entered into evidence, Lieberman said, the applicant argued the deliberations constituted as evidence on his behalf.