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Cincinnati City Council can meet privately -- sometimes -- following passage of Issue 12

Cincinnati City Council can meet privately -- sometimes -- following passage of Issue 12
Posted at 11:01 PM, Nov 06, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Issue 12, a proposed charter amendment to permit some private meetings of City Council, passed handily Tuesday night with over 77 percent approval from city voters. 

Its effect is a simple deletion of one sentence from the city charter: “The proceedings of the council shall be public.” With that sentence gone, the meetings become subject to state law, which allows a majority of any governing body to vote for a private executive session to discuss certain sensitive topics. 

These include:  

  • Appointing, firing, promoting or investigating complaints against public employees and officials.
  • Purchasing or selling property for public purposes.
  • Pending or upcoming litigation involving the council.
  • Security arrangements and emergency response protocols, as long as their disclosure would endanger the council. 
  • Confidential information surrounding a particular entity’s application for economic development assistance.

Executive sessions are only for discussion, and actual votes must take place in public.

Five Democratic members of City Council in April became the targets of a lawsuit filed by local government watchdog Mark Miller, who claimed the existence of a private group chat among the officials constituted a breach of the public meetings requirement. In the long-running chain of texts and emails, P.G. Sittenfeld, Tamaya Dennard, Wendell Young, Greg Landsman and Chris Seelbach discussed the acrimonious exit of City Manager Harry Black and coordinated a joint news release about Mayor John Cranley’s request Black step down.

Miller’s suit prompted Judge Robert Ruehlman to order the release of all texts exchanged among the council members by Nov. 2; after about 80 pages were released, City Solicitor Paula Boggs-Muething filed an appeal claiming it was "necessary to protect communications that are privileged or confidential between elected officials and their attorneys."

On Monday, Miller's team filed to have the council members held in contempt.