Many school districts use their annual organizational meeting as a time to make board committee appointments. As school boards create new committees or invite new members to serve on these committees, it’s a good time to review the applicability of the Open Meetings Act to committees.
Ohio Revised Code (RC) 121.22 requires meetings of “public bodies” to be open to the public. Public bodies are also required to provide advance notice of their meetings and promptly prepare minutes following each meeting. Under the statute, a “public body” not only includes the board itself, but also any committee or subcommittee of the board. Although the statute does not define these terms, we are provided with the following guidance through case law and various opinions of the Ohio Attorney General:
- If the committee is required by law, rule or regulation, it is subject to the OMA. For example, under RC 3313.821, each school district and ESC in Ohio is required to appoint a business advisory council. Because these committees are required by law, they are considered public bodies under RC 121.22 and are subject to the open meetings laws.
- If the committee has been created by the action of the public body itself, it is subject to the OMA. The Ohio Attorney General has held that “RC 121.22 requires a committee created by the board … for the purpose of advising the board about matters which the board itself could discuss only in an open meeting, also to deliberate and formulate its advice about such matters only in public.” Though not required by law, many boards of education have acted to create policy committees, finance committees, or audit committees. Because they are formed by action of the board of education for the purpose of advising the board with respect to their subject areas, these committees would be considered public bodies subject to the open meetings laws.
- If the committee has been created solely by the executive action of the superintendent, it is not a committee “of” the public body and is not subject to the OMA. Superintendents typically utilize their advisory committees or councils to obtain the advice of district personnel, experts and consultants, and community members. Though not required by law, many superintendents have created community relations committees, technology committees, and athletic committees. Since these committees are created solely by the executive action of the superintendent, these committees would not be considered public bodies subject to the open meetings laws.
Keep in mind that, under the OMA, the number of board members serving on the committee is not the determinative factor in whether a committee is subject to the OMA. A board committee could have one, two or no board members serving on it and still be a committee to which the law applies.
In addition to meeting in public, board committees must provide notice of the time and place of all regular meetings and the time, place and purpose of all special meetings. The committee chair should appoint one member of the committee to take notes at each meeting so that minutes can be prepared for approval at the next meeting. Minutes do not need to be a verbatim record of the committee’s actions but should contain sufficient detail so that a person who was not present at the meeting could determine what occurred.
If you have general questions about the use of board committees or your duties or responsibilities as a board member who serves on a board committee, please contact the Division of Legal Services.