Aurora will vote on a charter amendment to allow virtual meetings

Photo of the front of aurora's town hall building with bright purple flowers around the sign in the front lawn.
Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

Aurora leaders are hoping to carve out a local exception to a state law that requires in-person government meetings. They will ask voters in the May primary whether to amend the city charter and allow virtual meetings.

Ohio law requires all government meetings to be held in person, with enough lawmakers present in person to establish a quorum. The law also stipulates that government officials must be present in person to cast votes.

Because of Covid, the state relaxed its in-person requirement but returned to business as usual on July 1, 2021.

However, state Attorney General Dave Yost’s Ohio Sunshine Laws 2021 Resource Manual describes a tiny loophole: “home rule” cities that amend their charters can meet virtually, and the amended charter will trump state law when the two conflict.

Aurora Law Director Dean DePiero looked at that and concluded that Aurora, which is a home rule city, can hold virtual meetings, but only if voters approve a tweak in the city charter.

The proposed charter amendment would allow virtual meetings to be held “subject to rules implemented by legislative action,” Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said.

Should voters approve the proposed amendment in May, the mayor said she and council will have to develop legislation setting those requirements: for instance, whether some meetings could be held in person while others are held remotely, or whether in-person and virtual meetings could be held simultaneously.

Streetsboro, Kent and Ravenna all livestream their in-person meetings, and none has considered charter amendments. Streetsboro Law Director Frank Beni said the YouTube livestreams are “for the convenience of the general public.”

Brimfield, being a township, has no charter and is not governed by home rule. Meetings are held in person and are simultaneously livestreamed via YouTube, said Township Administrator Craig Mullaly

There may be another, at least temporary, reprieve.

On Jan. 26 the Ohio Senate passed House Bill 51, allowing local governments to hold virtual meetings through June 30, 2022. HB 51 now heads back to the House for approval of amendments that were made in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. If approved, the new law would take effect immediately.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.