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Wagner v. Huron County Board of County Commissioners

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District

September 13, 2013

Tod Wagner Appellant
v.
Huron County Board of County Commissioners, et al. Appellees

Trial Court No. CVH 2010-1093

William W. Owens, for appellant.

Russell V. Leffler, Huron County Prosecuting Attorney, and Daivia S. Kasper, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellees.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT

YARBROUGH, J.

I. Introduction

(¶ 1} Appellant, Tod Wagner, appeals the judgment of the Huron County Court of Common Pleas, dismissing his petition for a writ of mandamus. For the following reasons, we affirm, in part, and reverse, in part.

A. Facts and Procedural Background

(¶ 2} This case arises out of Wagner's submission of numerous public records requests to various public offices within Huron County, including appellees, the Huron County Board of County Commissioners and the Huron County Airport Authority. The Airport Authority is responsible for the oversight of the Huron County Airport. It is run by a five-member board of trustees, which consists of individuals appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. It has no employees. Instead, management of the Airport Authority's day-to-day operations is independently contracted. While the Board of County Commissioners appoints the members of the Airport Authority's board of trustees, the two entities are separate.

(¶ 3} At the time the requests were made, the Board of County Commissioners consisted of three commissioners: Mike Adelman, Gary Bauer, and Larry Silcox. Dennis Sokol was the president of the Airport Authority's board of trustees. Sandra Gordley was the manager of the airport pursuant to a contract entered into by her company, N.O.F.A., Inc., and the Airport Authority.

(¶ 4} In late-October 2010, Wagner sent four public records requests to the Board of County Commissioners. In his requests, Wagner demanded the production of numerous public documents, including in pertinent part: (1) a copy of the Huron County retention record policy; (2) a copy of a recorded easement between Huron County and Summit Motorsports Park, along with any documents or minutes of meetings where discussion of the easement took place; (3) a copy of an avigation easement agreement[1] between Huron County and Summit Motorsports Park; (4) tape recordings of all Airport Authority meetings for the last 15 years; (5) printed "Veeder Root" reports[2] and reports of fuel sales; (6) audiotapes of all Huron County Board of County Commissioners meetings held between 2004 and 2006; (7) fax logs from 2002; and (8) all emails concerning the airport or the Airport Authority between 2008 and October 26, 2010.

(¶ 5} The board responded to Wagner's requests in a letter dated November 3, 2010. In that letter, the board's administrative clerk, Cheryl Nolan, informed Wagner that the retention record policy and the easement were available for pick-up. Concerning the Airport Authority's avigation easement agreement, the tape recordings of Airport Authority meetings, and the Veeder Root reports, Nolan directed Wagner to make his requests to the Airport Authority, since the Board of County Commissioners had no responsive records. In addition, Nolan informed Wagner that the audiotapes were located and would be available for his review during normal office hours with two business days' notice. Finally, the letter stated that three emails were available for Wagner to pick up at the Board of County Commissioners' office.

(¶ 6} Wagner also sent a public records request to the Airport Authority. In his request, Wagner demanded copies of the Veeder Root records dating back as far as March 1, 1998, along with a copy of the avigation easement agreement, and tape recordings of Airport Authority meetings. In response, Sokol wrote a letter, dated November 5, 2010, explaining that certain documents were available for Wagner's review, but that the audiotapes of the Airport Authority's meetings were unavailable because Gordley recorded over them once she reduced the content to writing. Regarding the Veeder Root reports, Sokol stated that the Airport Authority was unable to make copies as requested due to the voluminous nature of the records. Instead, Sokol offered to provide Wagner with access to the records for his review and the ability to copy those records he found pertinent. Sokol also provided copies of the Airport Authority's meeting minutes from 2007. Further, Sokol informed Wagner that the Airport Authority was not in possession of the avigation easement agreement.

(¶ 7} On November 8, 2010, Wagner responded to Nolan's letter, informing her that he would pick up the records and review the audiotapes in person. Wagner was subsequently permitted to review the requested audiotapes for 2004 and 2005, but Nolan had not yet been able to locate the tapes from 2006. She subsequently located the 2006 tapes. After locating the 2006 tapes, Nolan sent Wagner an email at the email address listed on his letterhead informing him that the tapes were available for his review.

(¶ 8} Unsatisfied with the responses he received from the Board of County Commissioners and the Airport Authority, Wagner proceeded to file a complaint for a writ of mandamus and injunctive relief, alleging that appellees unlawfully delayed the production of public records and destroyed certain public records. Following the filing of Wagner's complaint, Nolan discovered additional emails that were responsive to Wagner's request, and forwarded them to him.

(¶ 9} On December 30, 2011, appellees filed their motion for summary judgment. Prior to responding, Wagner filed his own motion for summary judgment. The trial court heard arguments on the cross-motions on January 19, 2012. Ultimately, the court denied Wagner's motion for summary judgment, and granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, in part. A two-day trial began on February 9, 2012, to dispose of the remaining issues concerning the audiotapes of Airport Authority meetings, the Board of County Commissioners' audiotapes from 2006, and several emails regarding the airport that Wagner alleged the Board of County Commissioners had unlawfully failed to produce. Following trial, the court issued its order denying Wagner's request for a writ of mandamus and entered judgment in appellees' favor. Wagner's timely appeal followed.

B. Assignments of Error

(¶ 10} Wagner assigns the following errors for our review:

1. The trial court erred and/or committed reversible error when it denied Appellant's ...

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