On Monday morning at 10.06 a.m., Stark County commissioner Thomas Bernabei walked out of an executive session of the Stark County Land Reutilization Corporation (SCLRC) because he thought a matter to be discussion would be a violation of Ohio's Sunshine Laws.
The Sunshine Law issue?
Whether or not an "independent contractor" is a government employee and therefore the hiring of whom would or would not be a proper topic of discussion in an executive session as provided for in Ohio Revised Code Section 121.22.
As the executive session was underway, the SCPR was waiting in the area adjacent to the commissioners meeting room located on the second floor of the Stark County Office Building with other area media when Bernabei (one of five members of the SCLRC Board) came ambling out muttering about how he could not abide the proceedings underway without articulating exactly why.
The exited meeting of the SCLRC board included, among others invited in by the board members (in addition to Bernabei):
- fellow commissioner Janet Creighton,
- city of Canton representative to the SCLRC, Lem Green,
- township representative to the SCLRC, Plain Township trustee Scott Haws, and
- the Stark County treasurer's office representative and president of the SCLRC Alex Zumbar
On learning of his stance on the Sunshine Law applicability, The Report exclaimed: "Kudos to Commissioner Tom Bernabei."
But to extol Bernabei is not the equivalent of dissing those who remained.
They did have a legal opinion from one Thomas Burns (a lawyer from the city of Canton law department - civil side) that it was proper for the SCLRC board to discuss the independent contractor matter as if an independent contractor is a government employee.
And that is exactly the reason that Commissioner Janet Creighton gave The Report as why she stayed the course in the meeting.
The SCPR sides with Bernabei and profusely applauds him for his action in "doing" and "creating" government sunshine in Stark County.
Just yesterday, the SCPR did a blog raising a question as to whether or not Canton Township board of education members on Monday evening complied with Ohio's sunshine laws in appointing a new member to fulfill the terms of recently resigned member John Martin.
Bernabei provides a model to Canton Local District school officials and all other county and political subdivision officials as having the spunk to do what he did on Monday in error - if at all - on the side of governmental sunshine.
The SCPR cannot overstate the courage that Bernabei demonstrated in taking the stance that he did.
All too many government officials get intimidated by their "peer review" crowd and just sort of cower down and abide the questionable in terms of sunshine law adherence.
In March of every year our nation celebrates what has been nominated as being "Sunshine Week."
Sunshine Week 2014 is made possible thanks to the generous support of Bloomberg and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.
While it is "fitting and proper" for the greatest democratic-republic the world has ever known to annually celebrate government sunshine, it is far more important that "acts enhancing sunshine" be performed daily throughout our government by the likes of Commissioner Thomas Bernabei.
The SCPR during the six plus years of existence has seen quite a few instances in which The Report thinks government sunshine may not have triumphed.
In addition to the Canton Local School District matter, The Report recalls a couple of relatively recent incidents involving the Canton City Council in which it is questionable as to whether or not sunshine was allowed by local government officials to be clouded over.
Especially distressing to the SCPR is the fact that Canton City Council president Allen Schulman (whom The Report has a high general regard for) broke a tie on whether or not council would go into executive session over the matter of whom was to be the new majority leader (vice president of council) on December 17, 2013.
Schulman is Stark County's foremost office holder political liberal and for him to side against sunshine was unbelieveable.
Schulman faded, but not Thomas Beranbei when the "rubber met the road" on an actual test of standing up when it counts.
Rhetoric is one thing; action is quite another.
Another trouble spot for sunshine in Stark County political subdivision government, the SCPR thinks, is North Canton City Council.
The Report believes that council and North Canton mayor David Held allowed a legal opinion by Law Director Tim Fox (issued in November, 2013) on the legality of a November, 2012 citizen passed (by a 72% vote) ordinance initiative to lie buried from public scrutiny for about three months.
And, the SCPR believes North Canton citizen activist Chuck Osborne's claim that Law Director Fox gives him fits in Osborne's efforts to get public records.
However, the SCPR holds North Canton City Council responsible for apparently allowing Fox to be a barrier to access to public records.
It is a sad day in the history of the American democratic-republican experience that the SCPR has to celebrate the courageous deed of a Stark County public official.
Let it be written, let it be said - once again - "Kudos to Commissioner Tom Bernabei" for standing his ground on behalf of "letting the sunshine in" on local government.
To the rest of Stark County officialdom: "Go and do likewise!"