Reynoldsburg school board emails may violate law

From The Columbus Dispatch Government bodies might be breaking Ohio’s open-meetings laws if they deliberate via email, out of view of the public.

Before the issue was clarified in early May by the Ohio Supreme Court, some members of the Reynoldsburg Board of Education deliberated at length using email. A few times, they even discussed how they would vote on major issues.

“I think in hindsight, with the Supreme Court saying specifically that email communication is not exempt, we could’ve used better judgment,” board President Joe Begeny said Thursday. “We’ve been more judicious” about using email since the ruling, he said.

Between March and May, Begeny, Vice President Rob Truex, member Debbie Dunlap and, sometimes, member Neal Whitman emailed each other dozens of times about how long to extend a new contract with a charter school, how to deal with a janitorial contractor that they say was doing a poor job and what to do about potential overcrowding at a high school campus.

On April 11, Dunlap sent Truex, Begeny and Whitman a 1,000-word message about why she favored renewing a contract with Virtual Community Schools. In it, she quoted what she told a constituent: “ It is my plan to vote for the renewal for the (Virtual Community Schools) contract on Monday evening, which I know may cause some contention ...”

Truex responded, “If the contract stays as is — I will be voting ‘no’ — which is unfortunate."

When asked for comment, Truex said in an email: “As a new Board member (and having never served in public), this is all new to me and I’m learning the rules by drinking from the fire-hose. ... We will of course make every effort to adhere to this and other rulings.”

Whitman appeared careful to email no more than one member at a time, avoiding a majority and sticking to fact-finding.

In late April, most of the board and some administrators grappled with the overwhelming number of freshman applications for the Summit Road high school campus, leaving it 200 students over capacity next year, while the Livingston Avenue campus would be underused. The board had convened public meetings in which it asked the community whether it would prefer modular classrooms at Summit, moving specialized programs from one campus to another or making one campus with freshmen and sophomores and the other with juniors and seniors.

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