Commissioners file complaint against hospital board alleging violation of open meetings law

Staff Report

MOUNT GILEAD — The Morrow County Commissioners filed an amended complaint in the Morrow County Court of Common Pleas over a “blatant, coordinated, and years-long effort by the Morrow County Hospital Board to block public input and make critical decisions in secret.”

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, June 9, seeks to invalidate multiple decisions to both sell taxpayer-owned assets and spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars with no public meetings or transparency as required by Ohio law, according to a news release issued by the commissioners office.

“After months of asking for public records and filing a lawsuit to get them, we finally know what the Morrow County Hospital Board was trying to hide,” Morrow County Commissioner Tom Whiston said.

“Emails we sued to uncover show that the hospital board created a secret steering committee that blatantly ignored Ohio’s open meetings law and made decisions to spend millions of taxpayer dollars without oversight. The hospital board lied to the public about the potential closing of the hospital and did everything they could to conceal it.”

Patrick Drouhard, hospital board member and former president, issued a statement in response.

“Every decision, including hiring a consultant to assist the hospital board with its task of seeking out a strong partner for the future to actually moving through a proper process of considering all potential partners. Ultimately selecting OhioHeath through a competitive bid process was made in public session of and by the hospital board,” he said.

“With regards to steering committee meetings, the commissioners themselves were present at several of those meetings, as the hospital board worked to keep them informed of the process.”

Commissioners contend that documents obtained through the public records lawsuit show that one member of the secret committee warned that “job loss” and “loss of any local control or input” would follow from a decision to sell taxpayer assets to Ohio Health. These discussions, which illegally took place over email instead of at public meetings, were kept hidden from the public.

The release also states:

“An email obtained in the lawsuit sent by Morrow County Hospital Board President Patrick Drouhard clearly shows that the secret committee created by the board was specifically intended to avoid Ohio’s open meetings law. Mr. Drouhard incorrectly believed that government committees were not subject to the open meeting laws. They are and now the decisions of that secret committee must be undone according to Ohio Revised Code 121.22(H).”

Staff Report