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Robert’s Rules of Order and Executive Sessions Are Permissive, Not Mandatory

In the case of Stevenson v. E. Cleveland Council President, 2022-Ohio-4521, the appellate court held that, in filling a city council vacancy, the city council was not mandated to follow Robert’s Rules of Order and did not violate the Ohio Open Meetings Act by recessing into executive session pursuant to R.C. 121.22(G)(1) to consider such an appointment.

In this case, certain council members argued that the city council violated Robert’s Rules of Order by behaving in a manner unfit for a position of public trust by treating such council members rudely and failing to conduct council meetings and business in an orderly manner. In response, the city council argued that such parliamentary rules are merely procedural and not substantive, thereby, beyond the scope of judicial review.

These council members also argued that the city council was prohibited from recessing into executive session for considering the vacancy appointment because the city council previously considered such issues in open session. In response, the city council argued that executive session is discretionary and not mandatory.

The appellate court agreed with the city council on both issues.

As to the Robert’s Rules of Order issue, the appellate court explained that:

“The Supreme Court of Ohio, with regard to the implementation of parliamentary procedures, such as contained within Robert’s Rules of Order, has established that parliamentary rules are intended merely to assist in the orderly conduct of business and the failure to follow such parliamentary rules cannot be employed to invalidate otherwise lawful actions.


‘The courts generally do not concern themselves with violations of parliamentary rules in deliberative proceedings, and this is so whether such rules are codified in the form of a manual and formally adopted, or whether they consist of a body of unwritten customs or usages, preserved in memory and by tradition. Since parliamentary rules are merely procedural and not substantive,

the courts have no concern with their observance. * * *

As a general rule, the courts cannot review questions of parliamentary law governing acts of a presiding officer with respect to the order of motions, and no appeal lies to the court for alleged errors of a presiding officer in administering parliamentary Law.’”

2022-Ohio-4521 at ¶ 14 (omitting internal citations).

As to the executive session issue, the appellate court explained that:

R.C. 121.22, Ohio’s Open Meetings Act, contains a list of exceptions to the general rule that public bodies such as city councils must meet and legislatively act only in meetings that are open to the public. R.C. 121.22(G)(1) provides that a public body may hold an executive session, i.e., a session that takes place in private, to consider, among other things, matters of employment.


The statute provides that a public body may go into executive session to discuss these matters. The statute does not require a public body to do so. The use of executive session to discuss matters of employment is discretionary. In some instances, the use of executive session may even be prohibited.

2022-Ohio-4521 at ¶¶ 17-18.

As an aside, the appellate court also found that the city council did not violate either the city charter or any other legal duties in filling the vacancy.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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