Ohio Court Rules Board Meeting Sign-In Process is Legal
March 26, 2013
By Caitlyn Sharrow* and Brian Crowley
In Paridon v. Trumbull County Children’s Services Board, the Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the Trumbull County Children’s Services Board (Board) practice of requiring individuals to sign-in before attending the Board’s meetings. The complaint alleged that the Board’s sign-in policy and procedure violated the Ohio Sunshine Law, which is similar to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The appellants’ further argued that they have an “absolute, unfettered right to attend public meetings” and therefore the Board is not entitled to impose any conditions on their right to be admitted to those meetings.
At trial, the Executive Director of the Board testified that the Board maintains a written policy, which prohibits members of the public from entering the building unless they sign-in and state the nature of their visit. The policy applies to all individuals visiting the Board’s facilities whether the person visits during business hours or in the evening to attend the Board’s meetings. Lastly, the Executive Director testified that the purpose of the policy is to protect the children who reside at the Board’s facility and to protect the confidential records maintained by the Board.
In upholding the practice, the Court reasoned that public bodies “may place limitations on the time, place and manner of access to its meetings, as long as the restrictions are content-neutral and narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” According to the Court, the protection of the children in the Board’s custody is a significant governmental interest and the sign-in requirement is content-neutral and narrowly tailored. The Court noted that everyone seeking to enter the facility is required to sign-in and that this requirement is not significantly intrusive because the Board does not verify the signature or investigate the citizen. Further, the Court concluded that the sign-in policy does not deny the public access to the Board’s meetings and therefore the request for an injunction was properly denied.
* Caitlyn Sharrow, a second-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, is A Loyola Education Practicum Student. The Practicum, part of Loyola’s education law curriculum, was created to provide law students with practical experience at education law firms and organizations. Students receive academic credit for their Practicum experience.