Hocking County commissioners clarify reason for executive session

From The Logan Daily Just over two weeks after the Hocking County Commissioners were accused of breaking the Sunshine Law, they provided an official statement as to the reason they entered into a July 9 executive session.

“It was my fault because I said ‘matters required to be kept confidential,’ and that’s all I said,” commissioner Larry Dicken explained Tuesday morning. “What it should be is ‘matters required to be kept confidential as regulations and state statute require. And that’s it.“’

When asked, Dicken confirmed that that statement was sufficient to satisfy the Sunshine Law.

Attorney Randal Lambert, whose services the commissioners rely on for litigation purposes, was present for other purposes that were discussed in an executive session earlier in the meeting and weighed in on the subject.

“Just for clarification, I think what you were doing was taking matters that need to be kept confidential as the reason, and it just needs to be ‘state regulations’ or be ‘pending litigation’ or something like that, so just kind of defining what that matter is in general,” said Lambert.

Under “Matters Required to be Kept Confidential,” the Sunshine Law states that “A public body may adjourn into executive session to discuss matters that federal law or regulations or state statutes require the public body to keep confidential. The common law attorney-client privilege does not qualify under this enumerated exception to allow general legal advice in executive session, because the public body is not required to assert the privilege.”

According to Dan Tierney, spokesperson for the office of the Ohio Attorney General, while there are certain categories where specific reasoning must be listed, such as ‘hiring or firing’ in reference to personnel matters, that same requirement does not apply for matters to be kept confidential. They do not have to list the specific state statutes that are the base of their reasoning for entering into executive session.

“I do not see anything in the yellow book [Sunshine Law Manual] that requires that. I think it’s probably silent on the issue, it does not require it and it does not prohibit it,” said Tierney. “I can’t comment for certain on this particular case, but the yellow book does not advise that there is a specific requirement that requires the statute to be said.”

When asked why it took so long to get an explanation regarding the executive session, Dicken stated that there was a delay because he was on vacation, and then he wanted to consult with Hocking County Prosecutor Laina Fetherolf to get clarification prior to making a statement.

“Government moves slow,” said Dicken.