Told You So
I have never understood why people begin the sentence “I hate to say ‘I told you so'” with the words “I hate to say.” Because it seems to me most people really like to say “I told you so.” It always seemed to make my mom happy when she said it to me. And my wife appears to enjoy it too.
That comes to mind today in light of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in White v. King. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that a prearranged discussion via e-mail among the members of a school board constitutes a meeting for purposes of the Ohio Open Meetings Act. In short, a virtual meeting is a meeting. And if the public is shut out (which it kind of is in that scenario by definition) that is a violation of the Act.
The decision is unquestionably correct. There is nothing in the Act’s definition of a meeting that requires physical presence. The Act defines “Meeting” as a “prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members.” So if I tell people to sit by their computers (or more likely take out their cell phones) at 9:00 am to discuss a matter of public business, how is that different from telling people to come to my office at 9:00 am to discuss that same matter. Spoiler alert — it’s not.
And the fact that the legislature didn’t mention e-mail in the definition doesn’t affect the analysis at all. It also doesn’t say that meetings count only if they take place at the office of the public body. Because there is no need to say that. The only issues are whether a majority participated in the discussion, whether the discussion concerned public business and whether the discussion was prearranged. If the answers to those three questions are yes, it doesn’t matter where the discussion took place or what format was used. The medium is not the message here.
Which brings me to my “I told you so” moment. In 2005, the First District Court of Appeals heard the case of Haverkos v. Northwest Local School District. I represented Mr. Haverkos. The facts in that case were virtually identical to the facts in the White v. King case. But back then, the First District concluded that the Ohio Open Meetings Act did not cover e-mail meetings. That decision hung out there for too long. Finally, the Supreme Court rejected it.
So, allow me. I told you so. And I absolutely do not hate to say it.