“Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty.”
Maj. Henry Martyn Robert wrote this in his 1876 book, “Robert’s Rules of Order.” The rules inside this book have been adopted by parliamentary boards and committees all over the United States and world.
Rules are in place for a reason. When followed during an official board meeting, the result is transparency that fosters trust between those charged with making decisions and those affected by the decisions.
When rules are not followed, there is no transparency and a diminishing effect on trust.
The recently-formed Ashland County Land Reutilization Corporation, commonly referred to as the land bank, includes a nine-person board of public officials and some private individuals, is tasked with following specific rules as a deliberative assembly.
Land banks are public authorities or nonprofit organizations created to acquire, hold, manage and sometimes redevelop property in order to return those properties to productive use, according to Local Housing Solutions, an organization that tracks housing policies.
In Ashland County, this is a worthwhile organization established in 2018. It’s a new entity, and we understand that.
However, recent reporting by Ashland Source on the board, found the land bank did not follow procedural rules on at least one occasion. The result happened to be the purchase of a house owned by an Ashland County Commissioner and land bank board member, Denny Bittle.
The purchase did not lead to a profit for Bittle, and by the looks of it will allow for the creation of an improved county parking lot and public park.
But that’s not the takeaway here.
The land bank did not vote on the purchase of Bittle’s property in a public meeting. Instead, there was an email thread in which four members voiced approval of the purchase. Weeks later, the purchase showed up in Ashland County Real Estate Conveyance Forms.
“This was potentially an ethical violation,” said Ashland County Prosecutor Chris Tunnell.
By not following the rules, public trust erodes — despite the very likely possibility the board operated with the best of intentions.
The land bank, in general terms, is a good thing. When fulfilling its mission of eliminating dilapidated structures in order to bolster property values and stimulate the local economy, accolades should follow.
Ashland County land bank — follow the rules. Vote on purchases. Record minutes. File financial documents by deadlines set by the Ohio State Auditor. Hire a public information officer. Consult with an attorney. Establish a records retention policy. Post your public records policy visibly in the office in which you meet.
Strict procedural adherence leads to transparency and the trust of the people your decisions affect.