Meeting violated open meeting laws

Action taken at a recent Washington County Board of Health meeting was voided Friday, as the meeting was found to have not met open meeting law requirements.

Washington County Prosecutor Nicole Coil advised the District Advisory Council Friday morning that since the last meeting of the Washington County Board of Health on Sept. 10 was not a public meeting, any decisions made or motions passed would need to be conducted again in an open meeting.

That includes the decision to hire Roger Coffman as the health department’s new administrator.

Coil explained that the Sept. 10 meeting of the DAC was not an open meeting as it was not publicized, so the public was not aware of it.

“There were no minutes and no agenda, so no notes were recorded of the meeting,” she said.

At that meeting, Jeff Jones was appointed to the board of health.

“As it was not an open meeting, he was not a proper member, so anything he voted on should be voided,” Coil said. “Any action taken as a result from the Open Meetings Act violation would be void.”

One of the actions taken during the Board of Health meeting was the hiring of Coffman. Jones voted for Coffman, but since he wasn’t a proper member, his vote does not count.

Friday’s meeting was called in response to Washington County Health Commissioner Dick Wittberg threatening legal action against the DAC for violating public meeting laws.

“I was never notified of a meeting (on Sept. 10) and was not in attendance. I question whether open meeting laws were followed,” wrote Wittberg in a letter submitted to the DAC earlier this week.

After the meeting Friday, Wittberg said he was satisfied with what he saw and that he would follow up in writing that he no longer sees need for legal action.

“I certainly got what I needed out of (the meeting),” he said. “My concern was that the executive committee of the DAC was doing things not representing the DAC. It’s obvious from this meeting that they are.”

The DAC meets once a year in March. It is made up mayors of villages, presidents of the township board of trustees, the county commission president and the president of the Washington County Township Trustee Association. As a body, it has oversight over the county health board.

The executive committee is made of DAC President Curt Welch, DAC Secretary Paula Smith, Washington County Commission President David White, Beverly Mayor Jim Ullman and Belpre township trustee Asa Boring. The executive committee is supposed to have representation from the villages in the county, however none were at the meeting when the committee was originally formed.

As both Beverly Mayor Ullman and Lowell Mayor Steve Weber were attendance Friday, Jedd Butler requested to be removed from the committee and Ullman took his place.

The executive committee is tasked with interviewing candidates for open positions on the board of health. Along with the open position on the board due to Joe Mills’ recent resignation, the committee will also have to vote for the medical position on the board after Dr. Kenneth Leopold’s resignation. His last day is scheduled to be Oct. 31. The position, by law, needs to be filled by a medical doctor, dentist, chiropractor or veterinarian.

The DAC’s next meeting will be scheduled when the interviews for the open board position are complete. The recommendation by the executive committee will be brought back before the DAC, which will vote on the matter. If there is no quorum, the executive committee will appoint the board member.

During the meeting, Jeff Jones of Waterford was appointed to one of the open board member positions. He was previously appointed during a special DAC meeting earlier this month, but no known minutes exist of the meeting, as it seemingly took place in the health board parking lot.

“We’re going to meet tomorrow evening, Tuesday evening, there at the health board, just to have a meeting probably just in the parking lot to vote on who we’re going to appoint to the board, “ said Belpre trustee Asa Boring in a message left for David White.

Welch was advised not to discuss that meeting.

“I’m not answering about hiring in the parking lot because of legal recommendation by my lawyer,” Welch said Friday.

The other spot on the board still open is due to the resignation of Joe Mills on Sept. 11.

At least two nominees, Nathan Sistrunk and Derek Wenzel, will be interviewed in the near future and the recommendation will be sent to the DAC board. The person will be appointed at the next DAC meeting. If there is no quorum, the executive committee will appoint the person to the board.

Coil said all the board members and trustees should go through training on the Open Meeting Act.

“It’s a three-hour training done by the state auditor’s office,” she explained, noting that elected officials are to take the training every four years.

Coil also brought up DAC by-laws to Welch, who was unsure of any in existence, although former DAC members would be contacted to see if any could be found.

“Statute requires that by-laws be in place,” Coil said. “By-laws and procedures should be in place in case anything like (the recent board resignations) happens again.”

Welch said he hopes that things will soon settle down for the board of health and the DAC.

“I hope to have one more meeting and put it all behind us,” Welch said. “We need to get a doctor on board and fill the board members and get this wrapped up at the next meeting.”

The Washington County Board of Health is next scheduled to meet on Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• On Friday, the Sept. 10 meeting of the Washington County Board of Health was deemed “null and void.”

• The meeting was found to not meet the standards of open meeting laws.

• Any action taken during the meeting will have to be voted on again during the next open meeting.

• Jeff Jones was appointed Friday to fill an open board position.

• Source: Times research.


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