WOODMERE — Village officials canceled their organizational meeting after it already began due to a resident’s concerns about notifying the public in advance of the meeting. In an email sent to village officials 20 minutes before the start of the meeting, Brainard Road resident Gerald Carrier questioned whether the public knew about this meeting.
Sunshine laws are a group of laws that guarantee Ohioans access to government meetings and records. The village charter requires public notice to be posted on the bulletin board outside of Village Hall, on the village website and at the Orange Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Pepper Pike. A notice was posted outside of Village Hall on Friday, but not on the website or at the library.
“If someone wants to object to the meeting and say that the Ohio Open Meetings Act was violated, that would mean any actions that we take tonight could be subject to being invalidated,” Law Director Frank Consolo said during the meeting. “The issue is whether somebody will bring a claim that because the notice was not posted on the website and, according to this email, at the library, that we haven’t followed our ordinances and therefore haven’t followed the Open Meetings Act.”
The website has not been updated since April, when council voted to suspend payment to Stephanie Gandy, who was contracted to maintain the website. Council Clerk Sheryl Blakemore said that she also sent the public notice to Anthony Furino, the library manager, but he advised that the library was closed to the public due to COVID-19 and he would not be on site to post it.
Mr. Consolo said that he was not aware that the public notice was not posted at the library and recommended that council not move forward with their meetings on Monday. The Finance and Legislation Committees were scheduled to follow the organizational meeting. He said that council should revisit the public notice requirement as written in the charter at a later date.
Council members typically discuss financial matters and upcoming ordinances during the committee meetings, which comprise the legislation on the agenda for the council meeting the following week. Councilman Craig Wade pointed out that without having a legislation committee meeting, there will be no ordinances to discuss at the council meeting.
Councilwoman Jennifer Mitchell Earley, who served as council president last year, said that the village officials should not move forward with any of the three meetings scheduled for Jan. 4 due to the lack of public notice. The organizational meeting takes place once a year and is used to elect a council president and assign council members to committees.
“The question at hand is the fact that we’re in violation of our own code. That was the point brought up by Mr. Carrier and the point affirmed by the law director, and then further confirmed by the clerk that the gentleman she sent the notice to [at the library] wasn’t available,” Ms. Earley said.
“So we’re in violation of the law, there’s really no way around it other than to wait until we can become in compliance; whether the clerk gets access to the website to post the notice; whether or not she can contact someone at the library and [put it in] the drive-thru. It would make no sense to go forward with a meeting that we could find ourselves in litigation over,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Brockwell said that the administration should reach out to a resident who volunteered to work on the village’s website. Mayor Ben Holbert said that he has reservations about working with an individual who is not contractually obligated to complete work for the village.
Councilwoman Glenda Todd Miller asked the mayor if he can use his administrative access to the website to post a public notice. Mayor Holbert said that he is not well versed in the website portal and did not want to damage the website by making a mistake. He said that the village could hire Ms. Gandy again using the mayor’s spending authority to maintain the website.
“I can go in there and try to tinker, but if I tinker and mess up, we will probably have a greater expense than that,” Mayor Holbert said.
Council members did not take a formal vote to reschedule the meeting, but they are expected to meet at 7 p.m. on Jan. 13.