Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Fired Police Chief Argues Council Couldn’t Debate Dismissal in Executive Session

Image of a closed door with a chrome handle and lock.

A dispute about the Open Meetings Act will be argued March 12 before the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Image of a closed door with a chrome handle and lock.

A dispute about the Open Meetings Act will be argued March 12 before the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The Ohio Open Meetings Act and the Ohio Public Records Act together are known as the Sunshine Laws. These laws give Ohioans access to their government, through its meetings and records.

The Open Meetings Act is the subject of a case to be heard next week by the Supreme Court of Ohio. The dispute is from Champaign County, where the mayor of St. Paris asked the village council to fire the police chief.

New Mayor Chosen in St. Paris
In 2019, Brenda Cook was appointed and then elected as the mayor of St. Paris. Cook and Police Chief Erica Barga clashed early on about the chief’s duties.

Cook wanted weekly meetings with Barga and weekly schedules and activity reports from her about the police department. Cook argued she has a duty as mayor to oversee the police department and Barga’s work.

Barga contended that the mayor made unreasonable demands, was harassing and bullying, and interfered with the police department’s day-to-day operations.

In November 2020, Cook suspended Barga for insubordination and misconduct. The mayor asked the village council to fire the police chief.

Public Hearing Held on Whether to Fire Police Chief
The council granted Barga’s request for a public hearing on her termination. After evidence was presented and testimony was given, the council voted to go into executive session, which is closed to the public, to deliberate on whether to dismiss Barga. The closed session lasted about two hours. When the council resumed the public hearing, it voted 4-2 to dismiss the police chief.

Barga appealed to the Champaign County Common Pleas Court. In May 2022, the court upheld the firing. Barga argued on appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals that the council violated the Open Meetings Act when it held an executive session to discuss the matter. The Second District disagreed.

Barga appealed to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case. The Court also accepted a cross appeal from St. Paris on the correct standard the trial court should have used when considering the case.

Former Chief Maintains That Executive Sessions Not Permitted for Certain Matters
The open meetings law, R.C. 121.22, explains that all meetings of any public body are open to the public. An executive session is a closed-door session of the members of the public entity. Executive sessions are permitted only for certain reasons listed in the law, and the public body must vote to go into the closed session.

Quoting the statute, Barga notes that an executive session can be held to consider actions such as a person’s employment, dismissal, or discipline “unless the public employee, official, licensee, or regulated individual requests a public hearing.”

Because she requested a public hearing, the village council couldn’t meet in an executive session to consider her dismissal, Barga contends. She argues her view is supported by the Supreme Court of Ohio ruling in Matheny v. Frontier Local Bd. of Educ. (1980). The Court concluded that “a public body may meet in executive session to consider the employment of a public employee, unless the public employee ‘requests a public hearing.’ In that event, an open session must be held.”

Village Responds That Dismissals and Deliberations Exempt From Open Meeting Mandate
St. Paris counters that when a public body is considering an employee’s dismissal, the public body is acting in a quasi-judicial role. The village maintains that the Open Meetings Act doesn’t apply in that circumstance and that the meeting isn’t required to be public.

The village also points out that Barga received a public hearing. Even during a public hearing, though, the law allows the members of the public body to vote to deliberate the evidence in a closed executive session, the village argues. It maintains that Barga received due process through the multiday hearing on the allegations where she presented evidence and witnesses.

Watch Oral Arguments Online
The Supreme Court will hear Barga v. Village of St. Paris and two other cases, described below, during oral arguments on March 12. Oral arguments begin at 9 a.m. The arguments will be streamed live online at and on the Ohio Channel, where they are archived.

Detailed case previews from the Office of Public Information are available by clicking on the name of each case.

Verdict Forms
In State v. Mays, a man was convicted in Lucas County for violating a protection order prohibiting contact with his ex-wife. He had an earlier conviction for the same offense. The new offense was sentenced as a fifth-degree felony. The verdict form signed by the jury listed the relevant section of Ohio law for the crime. The man argues that his offense was improperly elevated to a felony. He maintains that, according to a state law, the verdict form must list the degree of the felony or the additional element that warrants increasing the offense to a felony. The county prosecutor contends that the statute cited on the verdict form only refers to fifth-degree felonies. Nothing more was required, the prosecutor argues.

Attorney Discipline
A Mahoning County attorney was hired to represent the complex estate cases of two relatives. Because he was behind in completing a required filing with the probate court, he forged the signature of the executor and four beneficiaries on documents submitted to the court. The clients found out about the forgeries and filed a grievance with the local bar association. The Board of Professional Conduct concluded that the attorney did commit misconduct, but his forgeries did not negatively impact the estates. The board recommended that the Supreme Court publicly reprimand the lawyer. In Mahoning County Bar Association v. Macala, the Court will consider the bar association’s argument that the attorney deserves a harsher sanction – a one year, fully stayed suspension.