Lawsuit alleges Bellbrook school board violated law

Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school board
Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school board

The man who led the “vote no” campaign against the levy last May for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools has filed a lawsuit against the district claiming officials violated the state’s open meetings laws.

Attorney Derek Clinger filed the complaint Sept. 19 in Greene County Common Pleas Court on behalf of John Stafford, an outspoken critic of the district.

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When contacted Tuesday morning, the district’s attorney, Tabitha Justice, said court paperwork had just recently been served and she hadn’t yet seen the details of the allegations in the case.

The complaint alleges that school board members violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act by interacting with each other on district affairs through group text messages, emails and in other private communications. The complaint alleges violations began in January when the board voted to put a replacement levy on the May ballot.

“Board members conducted secret meetings among themselves and with others via telephone, email, text, social media, and other forms of communications to discuss how to respond to the public criticism they received for their decision to submit the levy to the district’s electors,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint also alleges that “an unnamed defendant in a sealed case” in Greene County identified under sworn testimony that board members were among approximately 79 people who were part of the private Facebook group “We Support the Bellbrook School Levy.”

Board members used the group to “respond to public criticism” and to “provide educational information about the levy,” according to the complaint.

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Clinger said the case is similar to the “Cincinnati Gang of 5” lawsuit, in which Cincinnati council members were found to be violating Ohio law by communicating privately on city business through text messaging. That case resulted in a $101,000 settlement for the plaintiff.

“The complaint also stems from the board repeatedly going into executive session for unauthorized purposes, such as to discuss ‘the superintendent’s goals’ or to perform an annual employee evaluation,” Clinger said.

Justice and district officials did not respond to requests for comments on this story by Tuesday afternoon.


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