Thursday, April 13, 2000

Council yields on open meetings

BY Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Saying private meetings don't benefit the public, Cincinnati City Council voted Wednesday not to fight a state appeals court ruling prohibiting closed-door sessions.

        The 7-1 vote means the council will end its decades-old practice of holding private sessions to discuss legal strategy with attorneys, negotiate deals with developers and conduct performance reviews of city employees.

        “I don't see any point in spending any more taxpayer dollars to fight the decision,” said Councilman Pat DeWine, adding that the city charter is very clear. “It says meetings of council should be held in public.”

        The Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals last week ruled unanimously that the city's charter prohibits private meetings.

        The case went to the appeals court last year after The Cincinnati Enquirer sued when council met privately to discuss the performance of City Manager John Shirey.

        Councilman James Tarbell, who cast the only dissenting vote, called the ruling absurd and outrageous. He said that when the charter was created in the 1920s citizens were more understanding about the process and the necessity for closed-door meetings.

        Deputy City Solicitor Robert Johnstone told the council Wednesday that the appeals court ruling was flawed and that the city was ready to take its case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

        Mr. Johnston said memos would be the only way to communicate sensitive information from city lawyers to the City Council.

        Mr. Shirey said the decision would limit the information given to council.

        “It leaves us no options. We're not going to violate the law,” he said.

        To encourage public participation, council voted Wednesday to change the regular schedule to include one night meeting a month.

        From May and through November, council will hold its meeting on the third Wednesday of each month at 6 p.m. instead of 2 p.m.


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