CLEVELAND- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio called on Cuyahoga County leaders to allow the press and members of the public to observe meetings involving the transition to a new county government. Since the passage of Issue 6 in November 2009, various committees have conducted meetings to discuss the transition. While the public has been invited to participate in some meetings, others have been held in secret.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “Transparency is absolutely essential to build public trust and ensure that officials are serving the people. It is an inherent contradiction that an advisory committee meant to reform county government wishes to do so behind closed doors without the full participation of the public.”

According to the Cuyahoga County Charter Transition Advisory Group’s website, they “promise a transition process that will be open and accountable.” In addition, the approved county charter requires all meetings of any committee to adhere to Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. However, in media reports on February 9, leaders stated they did not believe the meetings needed to be open to the public.

“Those entrusted with instituting reform cannot simply recite hollow words about the importance of public participation in one breath, but then discourage it in the next,” added Link. “We must set the precedent that the people are informed and engaged in all aspects of county government if we hope for it to have any chance of success.”

Issue 6 was approved by county voters and replaced the current county commissioners with a centralized county executive and county council.

According to news reports, leaders of the transition committee did not want members of the press or public present at some meetings because they may distract participants. The leaders pledged that they would instead post minutes of the meetings on their website for the public to see.

“People have a right to observe government meetings in order to obtain real-time, unfiltered information about the proceedings. By blocking the participation of the public and press, officials are only reinforcing negative views that government is run without knowledge or accountability from the people. This is contrary to the very essence of reform,” concluded Link.

Update: 03.11.10
On Monday, March 8, 2010 the ACLU received over 7,000 pages of documents from Cuyahoga County in response to its public records request. The ACLU is currently reviewing the information. In addition, the ACLU received a letter from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason's office outlining their response to the records request.

Update: 02.17.10
The ACLU of Ohio has requested additional documents from Cuyahoga County officials about how the transition committees and subcommittees were formed, copies of any documents they have produced, and names of current or prospective volunteers. Read the records request.

Update: 02.11.10
After pressure from the ACLU and the public, county officials pledged to conduct open meetings. The ACLU will continue to monitor the process to ensure that it is conducted transparently and with the full participation of the public.