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Published: Saturday, 9/17/2005

Seneca County to appeal records ruling

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TIFFIN The Seneca County commissioners plan to appeal a judge s ruling that found them in violation of the state s open-records law, officials said yesterday.

County administrator Cindy Keller said the commissioners discussed the decision by visiting Judge Robert Christiansen during an executive session Thursday with county Prosecutor Ken Egbert, Jr.

Ms. Keller said the commissioners agreed informally to pass a resolution Tuesday authorizing Mr. Egbert to file an appeal with the Third District Court of Appeals in Lima, Ohio.

The indication is that they re all in agreement, Ms. Keller said.

Judge Christiansen ruled last week in Seneca County Common Pleas Court that the commissioners practice of recording their meetings on audiotape and issuing brief printed recaps instead of detailed written minutes did not meet the requirements of the open-records law.

The decision came in a suit filed by Tiffin-area resident Mary Kay Ranker, who argued that the board violated the law by refusing to provide her with paper copies of minutes unless she paid to have the recordings of five commissioners meetings from 2003 transcribed.

The judge instructed the commissioners to keep a full record of their proceedings and to make a good-faith effort to give Ms. Ranker more detailed information about the 2003 meetings.

Judge Christiansen, a former Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge who lost his seat when he unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals, wrote that the tapes did not qualify as meeting minutes under the law because they were not transcribed, indexed, or played at subsequent board meetings. He also found that some meetings were not taped, and that some sections of the recordings were unclear.

Joseph Schock, president of the commissioners, said yesterday that he and colleagues Ben Nutter and David Sauber were concerned about how the ruling could affect Seneca County and other governmental bodies in Ohio.

We just thought it was some-thing that would have major ramifications and that we needed to follow up on, he said.

I think it revolves around our position that the audiotape, based on Ohio law, is acceptable as the minutes of a meeting.

Mr. Schock said the commissioners have talked about buying equipment so they can videotape their meetings too.

Mr. Egbert could not be reached for comment yesterday.

John Barga, Ms. Ranker s attorney, questioned what grounds the commissioners would have to appeal Judge Christiansen s ruling, which he called very straightforward.

My client and I were quite surprised that they re contemplating an appeal, Mr. Barga said.

In the beginning of this case, they said the recaps were the minutes and then during the trial they said the tapes were their minutes. The judge said neither one met the standard of the law.

Contact Steve Murphy at: smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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