Hancock County’s commissioners held a closed session today under a new rule allowing public bodies to privately discuss economic development.
It is likely that state law requires more disclosure, said Dennis Hetzel, director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.
“Yes, this was slipped into the budget (of all things) last spring, thanks to our friends in the Municipal League and Townships Association,” said Hetzel. “We got it amended so it is more restrictive. For one thing, the vote (to go into closed session) has to be unanimous and the purposes more specific. If they just said ‘economic development matters,’ I don’t that is good enough.”
Under the new rules, public bodies may move into executive session “to consider confidential information related to marketing plans, specific business strategy, production techniques, trade secrets, or personal financial statements of an applicant for economic development assistance, or to negotiate with other political subdivisions respecting requests for economic development assistance.”
The information must also be directly related to a request for economic development assistance, or involve public infrastructure improvements or the extension of utility services that are directly related to an economic development project.
The vote to go into executive session must be taken by roll call and be unanimous, according to the rules.
There was no additional disclosure given at today’s commissioners meeting, and the vote to close the meeting was unanimous.
A Courier reporter did protest closing the meeting, unaware of the rule change.
Hetzel said the change has yet to be challenged in Ohio.
“This has been on the Municipal League and Townships Association’s wish list for years. Of course, they argue that economic development is a dog-eat-dog world today, and that some information is best discussed in private, but there is so much opportunity for mischief there,” Hetzel said.
Courier reporter Denise Grant is developing this story.