Norton City Council Meetings Can Be Aired Via Internet
By streaming its city council meetings live over the Internet, Norton has met its charter requirement that it publicly air all council sessions, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.
Norton’s charter provision states that council meetings must be “televised ‘live’” and refers to the “televised broadcasts.” Noting that the word “television” is a fluid term, the Supreme Court concluded that city council had discretion as to how to implement the provision.
The court’s 4-3 decision, written by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, affirmed the judgment of the Ninth District Court of Appeals.
In November 2012, Norton’s voters approved adding a new section titled “Televised Meetings” to the city charter. It reads:
Effective upon passage by the electors, the Administration and Council shall have up to sixty days to arrange for and commence public airings of all Council meetings, work sessions, and workshops. All aforementioned Council meetings shall be televised “live,” in their entirety, without censorship and/or editing. Such televised broadcasts shall further be offered twice weekly during repeat airings for public accessibility. Additionally, Council shall arrange for copies of the recorded Council meetings to be available at minimum cost to the public upon request or at no cost to citizens supplying their own suitable medium for recording.
In March 2013, Norton began live streaming all council meetings through the city’s website. Resident William Paluch filed for a writ of mandamus, claiming the city was violating its duty to televise the meetings. Mike Zita, Norton’s mayor, was named in the action, which was filed in Ninth District.
The appeals court found in favor of Zita and the city, and Paluch appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Justice Lanzinger wrote that the charter amendment requires the city to “commence public airings” of council meetings and then refers to those airings as “televised” broadcasts. She noted that the words “public airings” and “televised” are not defined in the provisions.
She reasoned that Paluch focused on the wrong term in the amendment: “The purpose of the charter amendment was to expand the public’s immediate access to city council’s workings by requiring ‘public airings.’ The voters gave the Norton City Council discretion as to the means of implementing the amendment.”
“Earlier definitions of ‘television’ referred exclusively to a system of transmitting images and sounds by radio waves, and did not include cable transmission,” she wrote. “More recent definitions encompass all transmissions via ‘electronic or electromagnetic signals’ and omit that the conversion from signal to picture be accomplished by a television tube. … These citations demonstrate that, far from having a plain and fixed definition, the word ‘television’ has evolved over time to encompass new technologies, including the Internet.”
Joining the majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and William M. O’Neill.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Judith L. French.
Citing Webster’s dictionary, Justice O’Donnell defined “televise” as “to broadcast by television,” “broadcast” as “the act of sending out sound or image by radio or television transmission,” and “airing” as a “radio or television broadcast.” He contended that “Internet streaming is not a televised broadcast; rather streaming is more accurately understood to be a unicast of media, in that there is one stream of data directed from a central server to the user’s specific computer over an individual IP address.”
“This is not a case in which we are asked to construe older charter language adopted before the advent of newer technology; the electors of Norton were aware of the existence of Internet streaming in 2012 but nonetheless amended the charter to require the city to televise its city council proceedings, directing the city to use a specific manner of transmitting the audio and video of those proceedings in ‘public airings’ through ‘televised broadcasts,’ and these are terms that are commonly understood to require the use of a television set,” Justice O’Donnell wrote. “A televised broadcast may be streamed over the Internet, but a program transmitted solely by way of an Internet stream is not a televised broadcast.”
He concluded that the charter amendment requires the city to televise its council proceedings and that he would have granted the writ to Paluch.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
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