From This Week News
Powell city leaders are standing by a proposal to expand City Council’s right to meet privately, despite assertions that the proposition is on shaky legal ground.
Representatives of the Ohio Newspaper Association say a proposed charter amendment, which would expand the rights of Powell city officials to discuss matters in private executive sessions, could open the door to abuse.
“This might be the worst open-meetings language I have ever seen,” said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, a state trade group that represents Ohio newspapers. “It clearly violates the spirit of Ohio’s open-meetings law, which only allows closed meetings under very specific circumstances.
“This is an open-ended invitation to deliberate about anything in secret any time two-thirds of the council wants to do it,” Hetzel said. “This language essentially makes council immune from scrutiny whenever it wants to be immune from it. That is the opposite of what the open-meetings law was designed to do and the opposite of the intent of the charter language.”
The amendment is one of seven Powell charter amendments set to be placed on the ballot in May or November; a final ballot date has not been chosen. All seven amendments were approved for the ballot at a Feb. 5 council meeting.
The amendment governing executive-session rules would make way for council to identify additional grounds on which discussions can remain confidential. Mayor Richard Cline said it would give council more flexibility to negotiate economic-incentive deals with companies interested in moving to Powell, among other potential uses.
If it’s approved by voters, council could enter executive session to discuss an item if five out of seven council members agree it’s necessary.