Ohio Legislature Creates Additional Exception to the Open Meeting Law Under R.C. 121.22

Legal Update

In Ohio, meetings of most public bodies are to be open to the general public.  The controlling statute, known as the Ohio Open Meetings Law, provides that its provisions "shall be liberally construed to require public officials to take official action and to conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings unless the subject matter is specifically excepted by law.” R.C. 121.22.

Prior to the recent enactment of 2013 H.B. 59, there were only seven exceptions or permissible reasons for a public body to hold an executive (i.e .closed) session pursuant to R.C. 121.22. Some of these permissible reasons include: (1) considering employment related matters that pertain to public employees or officials; (2) considering the purchase or sale of property for public purposes; (3) conferencing with an attorney for the public body regarding matters of pending or imminent court action; and (4) discussing trade secrets for county, joint township, and municipal hospitals.

The General Assembly recently added an eighth exception or permissive reason for a public body to enter into executive session. If confidential information related to economic development assistance is being discussed, and a unanimous quorum[1] of the public body determines, by a roll call vote, that the executive session is necessary to protect the interests of the applicant or the possible investment or expenditure of public funds to be made in connection with the economic development project, the public body can enter into executive session.  2013 Am.Sub.H.B. No. 59.    

Effective September 29, 2013, H.B. 59 revises R.C. 121.22 to provide a public body authorization to enter executive session:

To consider confidential information related to the marketing plans, specific business strategy, production techniques, trade secrets, or personal financial statements of an applicant for economic development assistance, or to negotiations with other political subdivisions respecting requests for economic development assistance, provided that both of the following conditions apply:

The information is directly related to a request for economic development assistance that is to be provided or administered under any provision of Chapter 715., 725., 1724., or 1728. or sections 701.07, 3735.67 to 3735.70, 5709.40 to 5709.43, 5709.61 to 5709.69, 5709.73 to 5709.75, or 5709.77 to 5709.81 of the Revised Code, or that involves public infrastructure improvements or the extension of utility services that are directly related to an economic development project.

A unanimous quorum of the public body determines, by a roll call vote, that the executive session is necessary to protect the interests of the applicant or the possible investment or expenditure of public funds to be made in connection with the economic development project.  R.C. 121.22 (G)(8)(1),(2).      

[1] "Unanimous quorum" is an undefined term in 2013 H.B. 59. Please consult your legal advisor for additional questions as to its meaning in your jurisdiction.  

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