On Tuesday, the Ohio Ethics Commission announced that it has made more than 400 informal advisory opinions, issued between 1988 and 2013, available on its web site. 

The Commission issues three kinds of advisory opinions: 

  • Formal opinions respond to questions of general or statewide importance that affect a large number of public officials and employees. Sometimes the Commission has used formal opinions to answer hypothetical questions that have been raised informally over the years or that emerge from investigations. Formal opinions historically have been drafted by Commission staff, with review and direction by the advisory committee. They are considered and voted on by the members of the Commission and signed by the Commission chair. Formal opinions are numbered by year.  The Commission has issued 345 formal advisory opinions between 1974 and 2018. 
  • Informal opinions are issued in response to submitted questions. Each informal opinion is considered and voted on by the members of the Commission and usually signed by a member of the Commission’s staff. On some infrequent occasions, informal advisory opinions are signed the Commission chair.
  • Staff opinions are also issued in response to submitted questions but are not considered or voted on by the Commission. They rely on direction provided by the Commission’s formal advisory opinions. Most of the Commission’s opinions are staff opinions and the Commission frequently issues more than 150 of them in a year.

All three kinds of Commission opinions are public records. However, until this week, only formal opinions were available on the Commission’s web site. By adding its informal advisory opinions, the Commission has more than doubled the advisory guidance on ethics restrictions that is readily available to public officials and employees. This move will be a huge boon to attorneys advising their clients and public servants attempting to understand more about the law as it applies to them.

Among the newly available informal opinions are these opinions of interest to school districts and educational service centers: 

  •  2010-INF-0629-1: A local school district board member is not prohibited from being appointed by the local board to serve on a joint vocational school district board of education. However, because of the additional compensation that he or she would receive on the JVSD board, he or she is prohibited from voting on his or her appointment to the position. 
  • 2009-INF-0901: If an 18-year-old high school senior is elected to serve on the board of education, he will be prohibited from participating in matters affecting his own teachers and will be subject to other restrictions just as they apply to other school board members. 
  • 2007-INF-1017: A school board member who is also pursuing a Master’s Degree in education is prohibited from doing classroom observation and student teaching in the district, and must resign from the board before attempting to seek employment with the district.

OSBA’s division of legal services will continue to review the Commission’s newly posted informal opinions and highlight the opinions of significant interest to districts and ESCs.

Posted by Jennifer A. Hardin on 11/15/2018