Trustees asked questions about Urban Meyer investigation during secret meeting

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer speaks at the Big Ten Conference NCAA college football Media Days in Chicago, Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Annie Rice)
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COLUMBUS - The Ohio State University said Tuesday that trustees were able to ask questions directly of investigators looking into Urban Meyer during a secret meeting held on campus Monday.

“The trustees did ask questions of the investigators for informational purposes,” OSU spokesman Chris Davey said in an email.

Davey said that the investigators “verbally shared” information about Urban Meyer during an “informational briefing” that did not constitute an actual meeting of the board of trustees because “The board did not deliberate or discuss any public business or make any decisions based on the information presented during the session.”

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10 Investigates has reached out to the state auditor’s office and the Ohio attorney general for further clarity and guidance on whether Monday’s gathering constituted a public meeting that should have required public notice.

No reply has been given.

OSU spokesman Chris Davey referred 10 Investigates to the attorney general’s reference guide on open meetings:

“Please see Page 94 of the Attorney General’s Yellow Book which I quote here:

In evaluating whether particular gatherings of public officials constituted “meetings,” several courts of appeals have opined that the Open Meetings Act “is intended to apply to those situations where there has been actual formal action taken; to wit, formal deliberations concerning the public business.” Under this analysis, those courts have determined that gatherings strictly of an investigative and information-seeking nature that do not involve actual discussion or deliberation of public business are not “meetings” for purposes of the Open Meetings Act.”

But 10TV News found that same paragraph from that guide goes on to state:

“…the Ohio Supreme Court has not ruled on whether “investigative and informational” gatherings are or are not “meetings.” Consequently, public bodies should seek guidance from their legal counsel about how such gatherings are viewed by the court of appeals in their district before convening this kind of private gathering as something other than a regular or special meeting. Those courts that have distinguished “discussions” or “deliberations” that must take place in public from other exchanges between a majority of its members at a prearranged gathering, have opined that the following are not “meetings” subject to the Open Meetings Act:

Question and answer session between board members, the public body’s legal counsel, and others who were not public officials was not a meeting because a majority of the board members did not engage in discussion or deliberation of public business with one another;

• Conversations among staff members employed by a city council

• A presentation to a public body by its legal counsel when the public body receives legal advice

• A press conference

The university announced that the informational briefing of trustees was being held Monday afternoon in a news release that also announced the special board of trustees meeting set for Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Thirteen members of the board of trustees were present for Monday’s informational meeting. Seven others joined by phone, the university said.

During Wednesday’s special meeting, it’s expected that the trustees will gather to discuss and deliberate the findings of the six-person investigative group during an executive session to the determine the next steps for Urban Meyer.

Any decision about Urban Meyer’s future as head football coach will be made by President Michael Drake in consultation with the board, the university has said. It’s not clear when that decision will be made.

10 Investigates reached out to all 20 trustees for comment Tuesday. None replied to our questions.

Asked directly if the university had any comment on reports that Meyer would be suspended, Davey said: “No.”

The investigative group concluded its 14-day investigation on Sunday. The investigation, led by attorney Mary Jo White of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, was looking into what Urban Meyer knew and did about a 2015 domestic incident involving his now-former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.

The $500,000 payment to Debevoise & Plimpton was put on hold Monday during a meeting of the state’s controlling board as the “budget is being adjusted,” according to the state attorney general’s office.

The state’s attorney general’s office, which is responsible for helping coordinate special counsel for state agencies, made the request that the $500,000 agenda item be deferred until another meeting while the budget is adjusted.

A spokesman would not say if that figure is going up or down.

Sen. Charleta Tavares, who sits on the state’s controlling board and whose district includes The Ohio State’s campus, said that controlling board members had questions about the timing.

“Generally, the university pays the bills and then reaches out to the attorney general’s office,” she said.

In this case, Tavares is wondering why the request for $500,000 was being asked for approval one day after the investigation concluded.

She wants to see a more itemized list and wants to ensure that the investigation was complete and thorough and good use of taxpayer dollars.

“I thought it was a little strange that the contract that the AG put before the controlling board, how all the bills were submitted,” she said.

Former wide receivers coach Zach Smith was fired by Ohio State on July 23 after being named in a civil protection order and being cited in May for criminal trespass.

Zach Smith’s ex-wife Courtney Smith has accused Zach of domestic abuse. Zach denies that he abused his wife.

Urban Meyer was placed on suspension Aug. 1 after Courtney conducted interviews with Stadium Network and said that she confided in Urban Meyer’s wife Shelley about the alleged abuse and that Shelley said she would have to tell Urban Meyer.

Urban Meyer is contractually obligated to report any such issues, according to his contract and a 2018 addendum that addresses the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX policy.

Urban Meyer initially denied any knowledge about the 2015 incident during the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago in late July. But after being placed on paid administrative leave, Meyer issued a statement saying that his words had failed him and that he had followed the proper reporting protocols.

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