June 12, 2003



Site of board session was mistake

The Yellow Springs school board showed poor judgment when it met in a private residence last month to discuss plans to place two property tax levies on the November ballot. Though open to the public, the session could be perceived as sending a different message — that the public was not welcome.

Let’s make one point clear: the school board did not break the law by meeting at the home of its president, Tom Haugsby, on May 29. The Ohio Open Meetings Act, one half of the “Sunshine Law,” does not specifically address where a public body must meet, though the meetings of public bodies must be open to the public. And the board’s work session was clearly a meeting, which the Sunshine Law defines as a prearranged gathering of a majority of the members of a public body to discuss or conduct public business.

As a public body, the school board must conduct its business in plain view of the public. By meeting in a private residence, however, the school board may have discouraged local residents from attending. Public bodies have a responsibility to get public input and encourage citizens to participate in public business.

The school board called the work session — which was attended by News reporter Diane Chiddister —- to discuss its options for the fall election. The board must decide whether it agrees with a proposal from Tony Armocida, the district superintendent, to place two levies on the ballot: one, called a permanent improvement levy, would fund technology, maintenance and the purchase of school buses; the other, an emergency levy, would fund operational costs. Mr. Armocida has recommended the board ask voters to renew both levies at a reduced millage.

The board has tentatively scheduled during its meeting tonight (Thursday), the first of two votes needed to put the levies before voters, though Mr. Haugsby said this week that the vote may be postponed because of concerns raised by the News about the work session, and to give board member William Firestone, who has lobbied the board to place just one levy on the ballot, an opportunity to discuss his ideas.

In an interview, Mr. Haugsby said that he suggested the board meet at his house last month to provide an atmosphere in which board members and district administrators “could sit and have a conversation about these tax issues.” He stressed that there was nothing “sinister” behind the meeting, and that in the past the board had met in alternative locations for retreats.

Mr. Haugsby did say that in hindsight it “was a mistake” to meet at a private residence. Mr. Armocida said, “I do think it would be better to hold meetings in public.”

That’s good to hear. The school board is made up of five intelligent, experienced individuals who, we have no doubt, want the best for the Yellow Springs school district. The board should be aware of how the public perceives its actions, even when they are innocent. Even an appearance of skirting the Sunshine Law, of working behind closed doors and shutting out the public, hinders the board’s ability to do its job and to uphold the confidence of local residents.

—Robert Mihalek