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Village Council— New meeting rules approved

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At their Dec. 21 meeting, members of Village Council unanimously gave preliminary approval to a new ordinance on procedures for calling public meetings.

“I feel strongly that we want to be as transparent as possible,” said Council President Judith Hempfling. “With this in place, I’m comfortable that we’ve done everything that we can do.”

At the meeting, Council passed the first reading of a new ordinance concerning notification for public meetings. Council will most likely vote on the second, or final, reading of the ordinance at its Jan. 19 meeting, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff in an interview Tuesday. Village Law Director John Chambers, who wrote the ordinance, will attend that meeting to answer questions from Council. This is the first time the Village has had a specific ordinance addressing this issue, Cundiff said, and the ordinance is based on recent case law.

The new ordinance was prompted by a recent action by a citizen who successfully sued the Village over what he felt was a violation of the Ohio Sunshine Law. The citizen, Gerry Bello, won his civil suit, and the Village was fined $500. Bello’s action was prompted by a Dec. 2 Energy Task Force special meeting called so that group could consider a grant proposal that had a Dec. 14 submission deadline. The group held the meeting at that time in order to make a recommendation for Council’s regularly scheduled Dec. 7 meeting.

However, while the Village notified the Yellow Springs News more than 24 hours in advance of the Dec. 2 meeting, as required by the Sunshine Law, the meeting was not publicized because it took place before the paper’s weekly publication date. The Greene County Municipal Court magistrate ruled that the notice was insufficient.

The new ordinance identifies procedures for notifying the public for both regular and special meetings.

According to the ordinance, the Village clerk will post a schedule of regularly scheduled meetings of Village governing bodies at the beginning of each year in the Bryan Center lobby, the public library, the Yellow Springs News and on the Village Web site. Closer to the meeting time, notices will be advertised in the Yellow Springs News at least 24 hours before the meeting, along with postings in the Bryan Center, the library and on the Village Web site. If regular meeting dates or times are changed, all of the above notices will be repeated for that body.

If a special meeting is required, a notice will be posted in the Bryan Center lobby and the library at least 24 hours in advance. A notice will also be published in the News if the publishing schedule allows and on the News Web site if not, and a notice will be published on the Village Web site. Any news media outlet that requests notification in writing will be notified 24 hours in advance, and individuals may also request in writing that they be notified of meetings dealing with specific subjects. Individuals who make that request, which will cost $5 per year, will be notified either by mail or by phone or e-mail, if time does not permit mail, the ordinance states.

Emergency meetings, which are a subset of special meetings, are also covered in the ordinance. These meetings, which may only be called for valid emergency purposes, may be called with less than 24-hour notice. In these cases, the same notices required for a special meeting will be used, with the 24-hour requirement waived. However, these meetings “should be very rare,” the ordinance states.

In the new ordinance, the Village “is going above and beyond what we’re required to do,” regarding notifying citizens about public meetings, Wintrow said.

According to the ordinance, the notification procedures apply to all Village bodies, including committees and subcommittees, and the clerk of Council is the person responsible for getting notices out.

Other business items from the Dec. 21 Council meeting will be covered in next week’s News.

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