667 N.E.2d 1223 (Ohio 1996), 95-953, White v. Clinton Cty. Bd. of Commrs.

Docket Nº:95-953.
Citation:667 N.E.2d 1223, 76 Ohio St.3d 416, 1996-Ohio-380
Opinion Judge:STRATTON, J.
Party Name:WHITE, Appellant, v. CLINTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS et al., Appellees.
Attorney:Baker & Hostetler, David L. Marburger, Hilary W. Rule, Cleveland, and Elizabeth McNellie, Columbus, for appellant.
Judge Panel:MOYER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, RESNICK, FRANCIS E. SWEENEY, Sr. and COOK, JJ., concur. PFEIFER, Justice, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Case Date:August 21, 1996
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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Page 1223

667 N.E.2d 1223 (Ohio 1996)

76 Ohio St.3d 416, 1996-Ohio-380

WHITE, Appellant,

v.

CLINTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS et al., Appellees.

No. 95-953.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

August 21, 1996

Submitted April 30, 1996.

Page 1224

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. R.C. 121.22, 149.43 and 305.10, when read together, impose a duty on all boards of county commissioners to maintain a full and accurate record of their proceedings.

2. For public records maintained under R.C. 121.22 and 305.10, full and accurate minutes must contain sufficient facts and information to permit the public to understand and appreciate the rationale behind the relevant public body's decision.

APPEAL from the Court of Appeals for Clinton County, No. CA94-08-20.

On March 31, 1993, the Clinton County Board of Commissioners ("the Board") informed the county building and electrical inspector, Michael Richardson, that he could no longer perform joint inspections with agencies outside his department without the Board's prior written approval, and that he would be fired if he violated this directive. The Board also decided to bar building and electrical inspections unless a fire inspector and two township trustees requested the inspection.

Concerned that these new policies would impact health department procedures and standards, Lizbeth White, the Director of the Clinton County Health Department's Environmental Division, tried to obtain the specifics of the new policies. White asked the Board to provide her with minutes of the Board's discussions and adoption of the new policies. White also requested copies of Richardson's personnel files. The Board provided White with the minutes of the meeting at which the new policies were adopted, but the minutes did not mention the new policies and were missing a page. In addition, the Board did not give [76 Ohio St.3d 417] Richardson's personnel records to White. The Board sought the county prosecutor's opinion of the legality of the release of those records.

In a letter dated April 25, 1993, White informed the clerk of the Board that a page was missing from the minutes, and that the minutes she had received did not mention the new policies. On that date, White also asked the Board to provide her with advance notice of future Board meetings. The Board did not respond to these letters. On April 29, White repeated her request. On May 5, the county prosecutor advised the Board that it had to provide White with Richardson's personnel records, and issued a written opinion to the same effect on May 10. Also on May 5, the Board asked each member of the Clinton County Board of Health for any personnel records on White and her supervisor, Health Commissioner Bob Derge. In addition, the commissioners raised the price of photocopied public records from $.25 to $1 per page. White withdrew her requests for the Board's minutes on May 19.

White revived her request for records on June 17, 1993, and the Board agreed to provide her with access to its records that same day. In reviewing the Board's journal, White found no mention of the policies which precipitated her records requests.

On June 29, 1993, White filed a four-count complaint against the Board and its clerk, Brenda K. Woods, in the Clinton County

Page 1225

Court of Common Pleas. 1 On the day of trial, White withdrew all counts but Count II from the complaint. Count II alleged that "[t]he Board fail[ed] to promptly and accurately record its policies, decisions, procedures and essential transactions [in violation of] R.C. Sections 121.22 and 149.43." The complaint sought a writ of mandamus compelling the Board "to prepare complete and accurate minutes of all Board policies, decisions, procedures and essential transactions."

At the outset of trial, White conceded that the true question before the court was the interpretation of R.C. 305.10. Both County Commissioner David Stewart and Brenda Woods testified at trial, and their testimony confirmed that, although the Board has a tape-recording system and Woods took notes at the Board's meetings, the minutes did not memorialize any discussions that took place. Rather, the minutes simply reflected the Board's final roll call votes. The trial court entered judgment for White on August 2, 1994, stating that "Section 305.10 O.R.C., if read in conjunction with Section 121.22 O.R.C. (The Sunshine Statute) and Section 149.43 O.R.C. (Ohio Public Records Act), clearly indicates that the intention of the legislature is to require the Board of County Commissioners to maintain a full record of its public meetings * * *." Consequently, the court [76 Ohio St.3d 418] ruled that "[t]he record must reflect the decision making process leading up to the vote including debate and/or discussion of the subject matter," and ordered the Board and Woods to "fully comply" with R.C. 305.10. The court also ordered the Board to reimburse White for her legal expenses.

On appeal, the Board argued that R.C. 121.22, 149.43 and 305.10 did not adequately state a clear legal right entitling White to mandamus relief. The court of appeals determined that, in its opinion, neither R.C. 121.22 nor 149.43 was implicated in White's action because the Board had complied with those statutes. Turning to R.C. 305.10, the court of appeals concluded that the statute did not create a clear legal duty on the part of county boards to maintain detailed minutes of their proceedings. Consequently, the court of appeals reversed the trial court's grant of a writ of mandamus. The court also ruled that the trial court's grant of attorney fees was erroneous.

The cause is now before this court pursuant to the allowance of a discretionary appeal.

Baker & Hostetler, David L. Marburger, Hilary W. Rule, Cleveland, and Elizabeth McNellie, Columbus, for appellant.

Isaac, Brant, Ledman & Teetor, Mark Landes and Terri B. Gregori, Columbus, and William E. Peele, Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellees.

Paul Moke, Wilmington, urging reversal for...

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