The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.
James Oaks, the secretary of on-campus affairs for Miami’s Associated Student Government is heading to an ASG Oversight Committee meeting today, according to several sources close to the proceedings. Although Ohio Law mandates that it must be open to the public, The Miami Student’s reporter will be barred from the committee meeting.
On Sunday, The Miami Student made repeated requests for information regarding the time and location of the committee meeting and was stonewalled. In a face-to-face meeting with ASG leaders Monday night, The Miami Student asked whether or not its reporter would be able to attend.
Their response: that is not going to happen. ASG leaders argued that they have their own constitution to follow, and it exempts them from Ohio’s open meetings statute.
The Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22 requires that all meetings of any public body be open to the public at all times. The statute defines “public body” as “any board, commission, committee, council or similar decision-making body of a state agency, institution or authority.” This includes any committee or subcommittee of these bodies.
Frank LoMonte, an expert in the First Amendment and media-law who represents student journalists for the Student Press Law Center, believes state law and court rulings are clear.
ASG’s constitution does not insulate them from Ohio law, and committee meetings must be open to the public.
“Student government associations are public bodies that are subject to state open-meeting laws,” LoMonte told The Student in an email on Monday. “They can’t exempt themselves from the state law by their own policies.”
In the 2001 case The Cincinnati Enquirer v. City of Cincinnati, the Ohio Court of Appeals decided that a body that makes decisions and gives recommendations to a public body must comply with the public meetings law.
“So, even if the decisions made by a student government are not ‘final,’ their meetings must be public as long as they’re part of some chain of decision-making at the university,” LoMonte said.
The preamble to ASG’s constitution states that the governing body’s purpose is “to play a clearly defined and significant role in the formation and application of institutional policy affecting both academic and student affairs.”
ASG can no longer assert that it is a governing body that represents the students of Miami University one day, and then say Ohio law does not apply to it the next.
“If government agencies could just opt themselves out of open government laws by enacting ‘constitutions,’” LoMonte said, “then nobody would follow the law.”