Ohio Supreme Court rejects use of secret ballots by public bodies

On August 14, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously struck down the use of secret ballots during a public meeting in its decision in State ex rel. MORE Bratenahl v. Bratenahl (Slip Opinion 2019-Ohio-3233).

In 2015, Bratenahl Village Council voted, in an open meeting but by secret ballot, to fill the position of president pro tempore. Patricia Meade, publisher of the village’s community newspaper MORE Bratenahl, sought an injunction and declaratory judgment in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, arguing that by conducting the vote by secret ballot, the Village of Bratenahl violated the Open Meetings Act, R.C. 121.22. The Village argued that the Open Meetings Act did not establish a method of voting, but only required that the vote take place in an open meeting, which did occur in this instance. The Court of Common Pleas and 8th District Court of Appeals both ruled in favor of the Village and upheld the Village’s discretion to use the voting method of its choice. Meade then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled for Meade and found that while the term “open” is not defined in R.C. 121.22, the law requires that any “resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body.” The purpose of the Open Meetings Act, as construed by the Court, is to “require public business to be conducted in a manner that is accessible to the public.” (Emphasis added.) The fact that the Village did not have a particular voting procedure does not allow for secret ballots, because secret ballots are not accessible to the public. The Court concluded that the Village violated the Open Meetings Act and remanded the case to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to issue an injunction.

Election Law, General News

One vote claims victory for Athens County school district

The state-mandated recount of the Alexander Local School District's May levy vote confirms that the issue has passed by one vote, with 1,184 votes for and 1,183 votes against, reports the Athens News. This is the district's sixth vote on the 1 percent earned income tax levy. Administrators say that the new levy will keep the district from a $1.5 million budget deficit and fund operating expenses. Read the full story.

General News

Campaign contribution fraud ends with county executive’s indictment

A yearlong investigation involving the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the IRS resulted in the indictment of Steve Stenger, St. Louis County Executive. According to prosecutors, Stenger and others defrauded citizens “through bribery and concealment of material information.” The investigation, which has been ongoing since 2014, revealed that Stenger solicited and accepted campaign contributions in return for “favorable official action.” These favors included awards to donors of county contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stenger then lied in public statements in an attempt to cover up his crimes. He has forfeited his law license and could spend several years in prison. For more, read the full story.

Campaign Finance, Ethics, General News

Ohio Ethics Commission's education and training opportunities

The Ohio Ethics Commission’s educational outreach initiatives, including live seminars, webinars and online courses, are designed to help public officials and employees comply with the law. The offerings are popular and well-received. In 2018 nearly 55,000 people took advantage of training across all three platforms, and participants praised the clear instruction and engaging presenters.

The Ohio Ethics Commission is offering several options for ethics law training throughout 2019, including available onsite training, an e-course entitled “The Ohio Ethics Law: Good Government in Action,” a webinar offered monthly entitled “Overview of Ohio Ethics Law,” and six at-large regional live training sessions. The e-course is approved for 1.0 general CLE hour and the regional sessions are approved for 1.5 general CLE hours.

In addition, the Ohio Ethics Commission joins with the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct each year to offer a 2.5-hour professional conduct CLE course. Three sessions are available, two in Columbus and one in Richfield, Ohio. As of this post, seats are still available for the June 5 and October 10 sessions.

All courses and training sessions are free. Onsite trainings may have a minimum attendee requirement. Please contact Susan Willeke at susan.willeke@ethics.ohio.gov with any questions or to schedule a training.

 

Ethics, General News

Governor DeWine delivers his first State of the State address

On March 5, 2019, Governor Mike DeWine (R) delivered his first State of the State address during a joint House and Senate session. Governor DeWine returned to past tradition and spoke from the Ohio House chamber in the Statehouse. For more, read the full story

General News

DeWine announces several new cabinet picks

Sworn in on January 14, Ohio's new Governor Mike DeWine recently announced several new appointees to his cabinet agencies. Appointees, who are still pending approval from the Ohio Senate, include:

  • Dorothy Pelanda – Department of Agriculture
  • Randy Gardner – Department of Higher Education
  • Jillian Froment – Department of Insurance
  • Kimberly Hall – Job and Family Services
  • Maureen Corcoran - Medicaid
  • Lori Criss – Mental Health & Addiction Services
  • Jack Marchbanks – Transportation
  • Jeffrey Davis – Developmental Disabilities
  • Stephanie McCloud – Workers Compensation
  • Ryan Gies – Youth Services
  • Ursel McElroy – Aging
  • Deborah Ashenhurst – Veteran Services
  • Laurie Stevenson – Ohio EPA

DeWine also named Andy Wilson as his senior advisor for criminal justice policy.

These individuals join several cabinet directors and senior staff appointed by DeWine in December 2018. An ongoing list of Governor’s Office staff appointees and cabinet agency director appointees is available here

General News

Are government shutdown freebies considered gifts?

During the limited federal government shutdown, many businesses responded by offering discounts and freebies to federal employees to help them cope during the difficult time. Our team often urges caution when government employees are involved with items or services that can be construed as gifts. So, we looked into this to ensure our clients were not inadvertently violating federal ethics guidelines and potentially making a bad situation worse.

Federal employees are normally limited to accepting gifts valued at $20 or less (and the total value of gifts from the same entity cannot exceed $50 in a calendar year). Gifts are broadly defined as anything of value. Here’s the great news: the federal ethical guidelines contain an important exception that discounts offered to all federal employees or to the general public are not considered gifts.

Ethics policies are extremely helpful in both the private and public sectors to keep employees (and their employers) away from compromising ethical situations. We all recognize the importance of the guidelines that detail what not to do. It’s equally important that these policies contain common sense exemptions for real life scenarios. We’d be happy to help create, review or revise your company’s ethics policies, if you need assistance.

General News

2018 lame duck summary and 2019 budget and legislative preview

With a new year comes a new General Assembly. Bills that the 132nd General Assembly did not pass will have to be reintroduced if legislators want to pursue those issues in the 133rd General Assembly. The DeWine-Husted administration will have until as late as March 15 to present the administration’s first draft of the FY 2020-21 Operating Budget to the General Assembly. However, we anticipate learning more about the new administration’s priorities in the near future. Read More >>

General News

2018 post-general election update

On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, Ohioans cast ballots in the 2018 general election. For the first time since 2006, five statewide elected offices were up for election without an incumbent running in the 2018 general election. Federal offices, including all Ohio U.S. Representatives seats and one U.S. Senate seat, two Ohio Supreme Court seats, all seats in the Ohio House of Representatives and 17 Ohio Senate seats were on the ballot. For your convenience, we have compiled an overview of the 2018 general election results and details on races of particular interest.

General News

FBI initiative releases video series addressing online campaign security

Protected Voices, an FBI initiative established to prevent cyber influence targeting U.S. elections, recently released informational videos designed to educate and raise awareness among political campaigns. The videos discuss a variety of trending topics, including secure communication channels, incident response and social engineering. For more information and to watch the videos, visit the Protected Voices website.  

Campaign Finance, Election Law, General News
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