One member of the Olentangy school board is suing the other four over a series of emails and phone calls that he says violated state public-meeting laws. Adam White filed the lawsuit yesterday against Dave King, Julie Wagner Feasel, Kevin O'Brien and Stacy Dunbar. The suit was filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
One member of the Olentangy school board is suing the other four over a series of emails and phone calls that he says violated state public-meeting laws.
Adam White filed the lawsuit yesterday against Dave King, Julie Wagner Feasel, Kevin O’Brien and Stacy Dunbar. The suit was filed in Delaware County Common Pleas Court.
In the lawsuit, White says the other board members held an illegal, private meeting to discuss district business, although he doesn’t say that they met in person. Instead, he says a series of emails and phone calls constitutes a meeting as defined in Ohio law.
For elected bodies, the law says a meeting is “any prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members.” Public business is to be handled in public, the law says.
To win the case, White would have to prove that the emails fit every part of the state’s definition of a meeting. He makes that case in the suit and asks for $500, along with court costs and attorney fees.
“This case is not about money; it’s about forcing the Olentangy school board to follow the open-meetings law,” White wrote in a statement.
O’Brien, the board president, said he and the others named in the suit plan to use district lawyers in their defense. “I don’t believe we’ve done any wrong,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that he feels this is the only means in which he can have dialogue with board members.”
In October, the four board members sued by White sent more than a dozen emails to one another, planning a response to a Dispatch editorial that criticized Olentangy schools and other districts for requiring board members to notify the superintendent before they talked to other administrators or visited schools. In the emails, which were also sent to some district administrators, the four drafted a response defending the policy that was published in the Oct. 27 issue of The Dispatch.
White sees the notification rule as a barrier to board members’ receiving information. Other board members say it just establishes order. White also says that the board crafted the rule to keep him out of the loop after he filed a report with the sheriff alleging theft by two athletic directors.
The emails in question weren’t sent to White, but his colleagues talked about him in the messages. One board member suggested that they highlight some of the “silly things” that White has protested in his role as a “watchdog.”
Some of the emails cited in the lawsuit are among administrators only, not other board members, but also deal with the response to the editorial.
Elected in 2011, White has had a strained relationship with others on the board and in the district’s administration. Soon after he was elected, he accused the superintendent of threatening him. Other board members have said that never happened.
In a 2005 court case, an Ohio judge ruled against a board member in the Northwest Local School District in Cincinnati who sued his colleagues in a similar situation. The judge said the man failed to prove an email sent from one board member to others could be called a meeting.