Does our board member elect have a conflict of interest? (Part 2 of 4)

Through the month of December, we’re looking at the most common scenarios in which an incoming board member may have a conflict of interest.  Last week, we discussed individuals currently working and volunteering for the district (you can read that blog entry here).  This week, we’ll take a look at board members that have family members working for the school district.  In the coming weeks, we’ll look at board members that are employed by or own a company that has an active contract with the d

Question of the week: Does our board member elect have a conflict of interest?

Hundreds of new individuals will begin serving on school boards in Ohio next month.  The legal hotline has received several questions about conflicts of interest for incoming members.  (Remember: OSBA attorneys cannot provide a legal analysis of the specifics for a board member, but we can provide legal information to help you determine whether you should speak with board counsel about a potential conflict.)

While it can arise in many contexts, we most commonly receive the question as one of four basic scenarios:

Online Sunshine Law Training

All elected officials or their appropriate designees are required to attend public records training approved by the attorney general (RC 149.43(E)).  The training must be for three hours for each term of office for which the elected official was appointed or elected to the public office (RC 109.43(B)).

January board vacancies

‘Tis the season for board transition!  But what happens if your board returns from the holidays in January at less than full capacity?  A vacancy may occur on the board for many reasons, but vacancies typically occur in January as a result of one of two things.  Either a board member has resigned from the board during the middle of his/her term with an effective date of December 31 or the board had more open seats than interested candidates at the most recent election.  In either case, a vacancy will occur on the board as of January 1 and the vacancy should be filled using the same procedur

Addition to executive session topics

On June 30, 2013, House Bill (HB) 59, also known as the budget bill, was signed by Governor Kasich. Effective September 29, 2013, the bill added a new topic to the topics that may be discussed during an executive session of a public body.

Under current law, RC 121.22 (G) provides seven topics, six of which are applicable to school boards, which allow public bodies to remove themselves from public view to engage in discussion regarding certain matters.

Can a school board conduct votes in open session by using a secret ballot?

No. In advisory opinion 2011-038 (2011 Op. Att'y Gen. No. 038), the Ohio Attorney General (OAG) concluded that a public body (in this instance the State Board of Education) may not vote in an open meeting by secret ballot. The OAG determined that voting by secret ballot would violate Ohio's open meetings law in much the same way as a violation occurs when public officials whisper or pass documents among themselves during meetings or when a vote would improperly be taken during executive session.

Sixth Circuit Supports Content-Neutral Rules that Restrict Public Participation at Meetings

In the case of Lowery v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ., a high school football coach from Jefferson County High School in Tennessee dismissed three students from the football team for challenging his leadership. After the students parents were unsuccessful with their complaints to school officials, they addressed their concerns to the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Can we offer our board members free admission to school-sponsored events, such as sporting events and music concerts?

Boards are generally permitted to adopt a resolution to grant board members free admission to school-sponsored events, but should be cognizant of the relevant ethics laws and the potential for appearances of impropriety. The Ohio Revised Code prohibits public officials, including school board members, from using their office to solicit or accept things of value from those parties they regulate or with whom they do business.