Were you surprised upon hearing the city's Parks Board had narrowly voted to approve the lighting of Mount Pleasant? Join the crowd.
Would you have liked one more say on the matter? Too bad.
The board, which held a pair of public sessions last year to discuss the possible lighting of the Fairfield County icon, met March 14 and approved the idea. It's done.
Let's be clear: The board said, as early as late December, that they would likely vote in March. In that sense, they believed that was an ample warning of their decision — and it was a huge one for a lot of people inside, and outside, Lancaster.
But in a busy world with people filled with busy lives, we believe the Parks Board owed more to the community than just a "hey, we'll be making this decision later ... hope to see you then."
Keep in mind the public's interest in this idea was at its apex in the late summer and early fall. In fact, Mount Pleasant was illuminated during the county fair in October, and that was the last formal mention of the matter. That's nearly six months.
So, with no particular nod to the citizens who voiced their opinions on the matter, the board voted. Reaction to that vote has been mixed. Some are upset at the decision, others are pleased. Still, others felt as if the board was less than transparent.
First, let's address what all public bodies have to do by law. The Ohio Revised Code is pretty clear. The law says, according to the Ohio Attorney General's Sunshine Law manual, "The public body’s notice rule must provide for “notice that is consistent and actually reaches the public." Further, it's stated that regular meetings must have a reasonable method to inform the public of their monthly meetings.
If you go to the city's website and search the agenda and minutes for "Parks Board," you'll find none. In fact, go to the site and search the entire site for anything related to the Parks Board and you'll see merely a handful of items related to meetings, including a change of the February meeting, but no reference to the March meeting at all.
Finally, go to the website and search for the board meeting dates and times of future meetings and you still will not find them, because they are not posted. In fact, we can't find a single place where the March 14 meeting was published, nor could we see a notice that the Mount Pleasant issue was up for a vote. Maybe it's on the Parks and Recreation Facebook page? Nope.
Does that comply with the law? Is the notification provided "consistent" and does it actually reach the public?
We argue that it falls short. So, if an intrepid Lancaster resident wanted to challenge the legality of the board's 2-1 decision on the lighting of Mount Pleasant, they might be able to do so because the meetings are not adequately publicized. Will it change the outcome? Probably not. Is it worth the effort? We believe all efforts to push the government to follow the rules are worthwhile.
Listen, this might not be a big deal to the board. It may not involve a significant expenditure of public money, but if the Parks Board and the city analyze this decision, they should admit they could have been much more transparent than they were before casting a vote. Mistrust follows a lack of transparency.
We're told the board meets the second Wednesday of each month. The next move is yours, Lancaster residents. Make your voices heard.