Opponents of Closed Door Council Meetings Files Complaint
COLUMBUS CHARTER FIGHT 10/20/10 HOLMES WRAP
A group against closed door meetings for Columbus City Council filed a complaint Wednesday at the Ohio Elections Commission. The complaint centers around recent mailers sent by supporters of Issue 12 that voters will decide in November.
The mailer sent to Columbus voters this month reads Issue 12 Means Accountability. The flyer says the amendment on the November ballot will bring Columbus in line with Ohio law for open meeting requirements. But a group called Keep Council Open that opposes Issue 12 says changing the city's charter to allow for closed door discussions for certain issues will make council less accountable for its actions. Attorney Robert Fitrakis represents Keep Council Open.
" They're arguing essentially closing meetings to the public and excluding a free press means that the meeting is more accountable. It's not and we can't let them get away with this type of advertisement. It's false," argued Fitrakis.
Spokeswoman for Issue 12 and Columbus Citizens for Good Government, Lisa Griffin says closed door sessions would only involve 5 topics: real estate transactions the city is a party to; pending litigation; personnel issues, security issues, and federal homeland security matters required by law to be kept confidential. Griffin says supporters for Issue 12 don't believe there's any confusion.
"In our campaigning in the neighborhoods and at candidates' nights and knocking on doors when we talk to voters about Issue 12 they understand the benefits of having executive session authority on a very limited basis according to state law," explained Griffin.
Griffin adds the public will still have an opportunity for comment on matters discussed behind closed doors.
"The important thing with Issue 12, all votes and decisions continue to be made in public meetings when any resident or citizen can speak before council before a vote is taken, said Griffin.
Issue 12 Opponent Robert Fitrakis says the change to city council's charter will hurt the public.
"The argument is that if you close council meetings, if you lock the press out, lock the public out inherently, intrinsically it's not more accountability, it's back room dealing," said Fitrakis.
Fritakis says he expects the Ohio Elections Commission will hold a hearing next week on the complaint. He says until election day he will continue to inform voters on Issue 12.