Judge decides board in lawsuit | News, Sports, Jobs

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YOUNGSTOWN — A Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas judge ruled in favor of the Youngstown School Board in a lawsuit brought by a former member who argued it violated the Open Meetings Act of the State by not providing written minutes of 61 meetings from June 2019 to March 2021.

Judge Maureen Sweeney ruled against Dario Hunter, the former school board member, saying the school board “was not required to promptly prepare, approve, file or keep minutes for discussions on the dates”.

This is because the board was under the “complete operational, managerial and instructional control of the district general manager at all relevant times and the CEO did not delegate in writing authority to the board to hold meetings as alleged in the complaint, “Sweeney ruled on Thursday.

Sweeney’s decision is that the 61 meetings were not subject to the state’s open meeting law because Justin Jennings, then district CEO and now its superintendent, ran the school system at the time and did not give no authority in the school board.

House Bill 70 removed local control of the Youngstown, East Cleveland, and Lorain school districts due to poor academic performance and established an Academic Distress Board and CEO in charge. This policy has since been changed and the school boards in each of these districts have regained control of the school districts.

In legal arguments, Matthew Roberts, the school board’s attorney, wrote that Jennings had “delegated no specific power or duty to the board in writing”, so “it is axiomatic that the board does not have the authority knowledge required to make decisions or engage in any official action on behalf of the district.

Hunter, who served a four-year term on the school board and lost re-election in 2019, sued the school board in June 2021, claiming the board was a public body and failed to keep written minutes.

There were audio recordings of most meetings.

Hunter said not all of the school board’s powers were removed by HB 70, such as its ability to put tax levy renewals on the ballot.

“To dismiss each of the 61 failures to produce timely minutes is a shocking betrayal of the public’s right to be informed of the deliberations of its elected government,” Hunter said.

He added that Jennings employees sent out public notices of those meetings “and yet the court would have us believe that the CEO deemed them all illegitimate.”

Roberts could not be reached Friday for comment.

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