A meeting turned contentious Monday night as board members at the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo questioned how that agency is preparing to reapply for a $13 million grant to run Head Start locally.
Board members then entered what appeared to be an illegal executive session, according to Blade attorney Fritz Byers. Shouting could be heard during the closed-door meeting, which lasted more than an hour.
Head Start, a program for 3-to-5-year-olds from low-income families, is run locally by EOPA, but the agency must compete if it wants to continue receiving federal funds to run the program. Last week, the federal government began officially soliciting bids for an entity to run Head Start in Lucas County; grant applications must be submitted by Aug. 14.
The Toledo Public Schools is expected to apply for the grant, and several for-profit operators have also expressed interest.
Monday's EOPA board meeting was the first since last week's release of the grant criteria.
Board member Vince Davis told Albert Scott, EOPA's Head Start director, he strongly believes the agency should consider collaborating with another local group, such as the University of Toledo, when it writes its grant.
"I'm uncomfortable that we don't have additional grant writers on staff," added Sylvester Gould, board vice chairman. "No offense to you [Mr. Scott] and your staff, but you haven't written a grant in a long, long time and it's a whole new ball game. …
"We need to get busy, because it takes a lot of coordination to write a grant. I'm uncomfortable where we are," he said, adding that outside, professional grant writers are needed.
Jim Powell, the agency's chief executive officer, said EOPA had spoken with several grant writers.
"We don't need to do this in a public meeting," he added.
Gretchen DeBacker, another board member, stated that the board should be kept informed of the grant's status and any potential collaboration with other entities.
"It's taking us in a direction that we need to know," she said.
When Board Chairman Richard Jackson moved that the board enter an executive session, a Blade reporter present at the meeting objected, stating only certain limited matters can be discussed in executive session.
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Gould said legal and personnel matters would be discussed, which justified the executive session.
The executive session appears to "violate clearly settled Ohio law, both in the process by which the session was convened and the substance of the discussion," said attorney Byers.
The session was unlawful because a roll-call vote was not taken, he said.
"Moreover, when the ground for the executive session is the personnel exception to public meetings, the motion must specify the specific personnel matter to be discussed. The Ohio Supreme Court has squarely held that it is not sufficient merely to state 'personnel' as the reason for the executive session," Mr. Byers said.
Furthermore, the executive session was convened to discuss matters that cannot lawfully be discussed in such a session, Mr. Byers added.
"In particular, discussion of whether the agency is adequately staffed, and whether staff should have a different focus for its work, are matters of policy that are at the heart of the Sunshine Law. The law exists to ensure that such matters are discussed publicly, and the personnel exception does not permit them to be discussed in private. Likewise, Ohio law has been well-settled for more than 20 years that the exception that permits discussion of legal affairs in executive session applies to pending or imminent court action, and does not permit the board cavalierly to convene an executive session to discuss a possible contractual relationship or other subject of public importance that may have a legal implication."
After the executive session, board members voted to accept a grant for a summer program and accept a finance committee report.
Mr. Gould said he believed it was legally permitted because a possible contractual relationship with a potential Head Start partner was discussed. Mr. Jackson said it was legal because decisions were made regarding personnel issues, but he did not elaborate.
He said it is imperative the agency put together a strong Head Start application.
"If we don't have the resources on staff, we need to go out and get them," he said.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.