Inappropriate Executive Sessions - Could they cause us to lose our Court?

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Council went into executive session Sept 17, 2019 to discuss comments made by Judge Piergies about Huber Heights City Manager Rob Schommer’s negotiating ability.  The comments Judge Pierges makes in the audio file below are inflammatory but not a legally approved reason for going into executive session. 



When they came out of executive session, they announced that they would be extending the lease of the Court building to the county for at least 3 months.  Talking about and discussing leasing of government property is also not a legally approved reason for having an executive session. 

The closest allowable reason might be for the sale of property.  However, when going into executive session for the sale of property there are multiple conditions that have to exist for this to be legal. [i]  The one reason that can almost never be satisfied is the last one stated.  The city would have to prove that disclosing that they are interested in selling the property would give a competitive advantage to a person with private interest, and selling to that person is detrimental to the general public interest. 

This is very important because it is very different from when a city goes to buy a piece of property.  When a city goes to buy a piece of property, sometimes it makes sense not to let everyone know because people think the government has a lot of money.  Either the seller tries to jack up the price or someone else rushes in and buys the property and then tries to sell it at a higher price to the government.

On the other hand, when a city tries to sell a piece of property, we have to be vigilant to make sure city officials are not giving sweet heart deals to friends.  That is why it is almost impossible to legally go into a secret meeting to discuss the sale of city property. 

I have taken the time to prove that going into executive session to discuss the sale of property is nearly impossible because Council has been using this excuse often to hide the real reason they are going into executive session.  We can see this is true about the Sept 17 discussion because they have already had public discussions concerning the lease or sale of the court building to the county.   How can they then tell us that they have to keep it a secret that they are selling it?  Then how do they prove that the County has a private interest that is not in the interest of the general public. 

On August 20, 2019 there was a full 17-minute discussion that outlined the entire negotiating process as perceived by the City Manager.  At this meeting council even directed the Mayor to draft and send a hard stance letter to the County Administrator. 

Further evidence that Council innappropriately calls for executive sessions is Mr. Morgan’s reflexive response to use any excuse to call for an executive session any time a discussion becomes uncomfortable.  Here is an example from the last council meeting. 
 




Should we care if council conducts business legally.  Look at this situation.  Is it important and beneficial to Huber Heights to have the county operate a court in our city?  Today if you get charged with a misdemeanor or traffic violation in the local area, it is highly likely your court appearance will be in Huber Heights.  You will not have to travel downtown or Trotwood.  Also, our police officers only have to walk out the back door of the police station to testify in many of their arrests.  In these cases, we do not have to pay for the additional time and miles it would take for them to travel to other parts of the county.  This saves the city hundreds of police man hours a year.  There is a very large benefit to the city. 

How does this situation show the benefit of open discussions?  Or really, how has this situation been hurt by the lack of open discussions?  If you have a couple of hours listen to Matt Truman’s POD casts on this situation.   One contains an interview with the current Mayor and Councilman Web.  The other with Councilman Richard Shaw.   It is through listening to your elected officials you will be able to judge for yourself if they are trying to hide things and more vigilance is needed.  Having them go on the record is the best way to judge their competence.  As always though, I believe and advocate for them refrain from holding secret meetings and instead have these conversations, on the record, during official public meetings.



Listen to "#44 Councilman Richard Shaw" on Spreaker.



Listen to "#45 Mayor Jeff Gore & Councilman Don Webb" on Spreaker.


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I should give credit where credit is due.  Earlier, in the same 23 Sept 2019 meeting where Councilman Morgan embarrassed himself and the city, Ms Byrge showed she understood council was not acting according to the law.  A motion was made to go into executive session. Ms. Byrge recognized it did not meet the requirements, argued against it and then backed it up with a vote.






 
 
[i] You can look up the legal reasons to go into executive session by downloading the 2019 version of Ohio’s Sunshine Laws Manual found on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website   Here is a copy of the text:
 

2.        Purchase or sale of property

A public body may adjourn into executive session to consider the purchase of property of any sort – real, personal, tangible, or intangible.   A public body may also adjourn into executive session to consider the sale of real or personal property by competitive bid, or the sale or disposition of unneeded, obsolete, or unfit property under R.C. 505.10, if disclosure of the information would result in a competitive advantage to the person whose personal, private interest is adverse to the general public interest.  No member of a public body may use this exemption as subterfuge to provide covert information to prospective buyers or sellers.


 

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