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Ohio State keeps public safety meeting private

Sarah Stemen / Oller reporter

The public safety committee that President E. Gordon Gee formed to help address a recent string of armed robberies in the campus area met for the first time Tuesday. The public was denied access to the closed-door meeting.

After the door to Bricker Hall Conference Room 105 shut at 4:12 p.m. Tuesday, officials from several different offices discussed several safety issues.

After emerging at 5:54 p.m., all committee members present declined to comment on the meeting.

University spokeswoman Shelly Hoffman said none of the members of the committee were going to talk about the meeting.

Hoffman expanded on the meeting, but did not reveal any details about it.

“It was a productive first meeting and the committee plans to continue their work through the weekend,” Hoffman said. “And will meet again to finalize their recommendations next week and present them to President Gee.”

Committee members include representatives from several areas of campus. The team is chaired by Jay Kasey, senior vice president for administration and planning.

Other members of the committee include: Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of student life; Chris Culley, senior vice president and general counsel; Tom Katzenmeyer, senior vice president for university communications; Melinda Church, executive officer for the Office of the President; Paul Denton, Chief of Ohio State Police; VJ Gadepally, president for Council of Graduate Students; Nick Messenger, president of Undergraduate Student Government; and Megan Conroy, president for Inter-Professional Council.

All members present either declined an interview, or avoided reporters from The Lantern as they exited the room.

When asked why none of the committee members would be commenting on the meeting, Hoffman said, “there’s nothing to say.”

After a request for the information from last week, Hoffman sent a list of committee members to The Lantern with further details about the committee on Monday.

“Some of the areas they will be looking at include expanded partnerships with City of Columbus to address off-campus crime, more resources for student safety services, additional communications and education,” Hoffman wrote in an email Monday. “The final course of action will be fully communicated to the campus community as soon as decisions are reached.”

Ohio Sunshine Laws ensure that a public entity, such as a public university, be transparent in all decision-making processes by allowing all meetings be open and all records be public, unless protected under law.

Hoffman said that this meeting did not apply under the Sunshine laws.

“It’s not that it’s an exception to the open meetings law. It’s that the law doesn’t apply – because it’s not a decision making body. The group is advisory to the president,” Hoffman said in the email.

Dennis Hetzel, executive director at the Ohio Newspaper Association, said it would be in the best interest of the university for it to be an open meeting.

“From a policy standpoint, even if they technically could close the meeting, it seems like it would be in the public interest for that meeting to be open,” Hetzel said. “There would be nothing to keep them from choosing to have the meeting open.

The Lantern and Hetzel are both members of the ONA.

Hoffman sent a statement after the meeting citing the court ruling Beacon Journal Publ’g Co. v. City of Akron (1965), which states that a committee formed by an individual is not subject to open meeting laws.

“As set forth under Ohio law, a group established or created by an individual (such as a president of a university) is not subject to the requirements of the open meetings law when the individual establishing the group is acting pursuant to his or her executive authority,” Hoffman said in the statement.

This committee was formed as a response to the numerous armed robberies that have been reported in the campus area in the past month. There have been at least 7 robberies in the past 23 days in the campus area.

Students expressed their concerns about the secretive nature of the meeting, but said they do trust Gee’s officials. Kimberly Mengerink, a fourth-year in business at Columbus State Community College who lives in the campus area, said she is glad the group is meeting, but wants more openness.

“I do kind of trust them, but I wish they’d be more open with us to let us know what happened, because it is affecting students,” Mengerink said. “They obviously don’t have to tell us everything, but they do owe us at least something and not just completely close us out.”

Chelsea Castle contributed to this story.

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