When universities conduct president searches in the dark, the results can be a disaster

From The Courier Journal

When Robert Sternberg was hired in 2013 as University of Wyoming’s 24th president, the state Senate president called him a “rock star.”

But he was selected without faculty or student input and was forced to resign 137 days later.

Sternberg, who had driven away deans and thrown the school into chaos, admitted the 131-year-old university in Laramie “might not be the best fit for me.” Wyoming’s board of trustees also acknowledged it had made a mistake and voted unanimously to conduct its next presidential search in the open.

After the University of Louisville's board announced it will try to find a replacement for ousted President James Ramsey through a search in which the names of finalists will be kept secret, the Courier-Journal examined other confidential quests. It found that while some have produced successful presidents, others were disastrous.

►At the University of Tulsa, for example, after a confidential search led by the same headhunter the University of Louisville hired, President Geoffrey Orsak was fired in 74 days.

►At Maryland’s public honors university, St. Mary’s College, President Joseph Urgo resigned two years after he was hired, as enrollment plummeted so drastically it put the school’s future in jeopardy.

►At the University of New Mexico, Washington banker John Elac – a friend of the school’s search consultant – quit on his second visit to campus, before his contract was even signed, when an enraged faculty challenged his credentials.

University search consultants, including Bill Funk, who the University of Louisville is paying up to $170,000 to find Ramsey’s successor, say private searches are essential to recruit respected sitting university presidents because none will throw their hat in the ring if they know they will be outed.

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Man sues police over fake Facebook page

From The Columbus Dispatch

A man acquitted of a felony for creating a fake Facebook page that parodied the Parma police department sued the city and three officers Tuesday, saying they violated his right to free speech.

Anthony Novak created a Facebook page in March 2016 that appeared similar to the page of Parma’s police department, and he posted items suggesting police were performing free abortions for teenagers. The page also suggested it would be illegal to help the homeless for three months, and it had a recruitment post “strongly encouraging minorities to not apply.”

Parma police announced an investigation into the page the day it was created. Novak, 28, took the page down less than 12 hours after putting it up. Officers subpoenaed Facebook for Novak’s identity.

A SWAT team raided his apartment and confiscated his laptops, cellphones, tablets and gaming consoles. Novak was charged with disrupting public services, a fourth-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 18 months in prison.

“This is one of the most extraordinary examples of government retaliation I have ever seen,” said Subodh Chandra, Novak’s attorney.

During his trial, officers said they were worried that protesters would show up at the police station. A jury acquitted Novak in August 2016.

The lawsuit seeks financial compensation and asks for the return of Novak’s electronic devices.

Exemptions to Ohio Open Records Act worry some transparency advocates

From OhioWatchdog.org

The Ohio state legislature has whittled down the reach of the state’s Open Records Act through the addition of 32 exemptions over the years, but open-government advocates still say the law’s underlying structure is sound and worth protecting.

“We’re up to exemption (ff),” Bill Reader, an associate professor of journalism at Ohio University, told Watchdog.org. “We’ve run out of single digits to categorize them all.”

The trend in Ohio has been against transparency due to growing anti-media sentiments, said Reader, who describes the Open Records Act as a self-help law, meaning that the person seeking the information from a public agency has the burden to argue for its release.

“Our Supreme Court does not have a very good track record on transparency on these issues,” he said.

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Ohio Supreme Court allows quick sealing of dismissed cases records

From The Associated Press

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that criminal cases can be sealed immediately on their dismissal even if charges could be refiled later.

The court said Wednesday that state law only requires judges to determine if a timeline for refiling charges has expired.

The unanimous decision said Ohio law doesn’t prevent judges from sealing records if the timeline hasn’t expired. The ruling settled disagreements between two lower courts.

Wednesday’s decision upheld the 2015 request of a man in Fairfield County to seal records in his case after charges including arson, aggravated menacing and domestic violence were dropped.

Dispatch editorial: DataOhio bill supports government transparency

Editorial from The Columbus Dispatch

We hope this is the year that Ohio lawmakers finally will OK a system that makes it possible for the public to look at government spending data and actually make sense of it.

This is the third General Assembly in which Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington has co-sponsored bills to create a database that would not only list expenditures by participating governments, but would put them in a simple, standardized format, allowing easy comparisons.

That’s a key point, because the public currently has access to plenty of data through Ohio’s open-records laws. State Treasurer Josh Mandel’s Open Checkbook project has put raw spending information from state agencies, plus townships, cities and villages, online, making such information easier to find.

But snapshots of spending have only limited value if they can’t be analyzed — for example, compared year to year or city to city.

The bill also would create a body called the DataOhio Board, to meet regularly and set standards for how data is to be presented. It would not require local governments to participate, but would encourage them, by providing $10,000 grants to cover the cost of putting the data online initially.

The current vehicle is House Bill 3, and it had a hearing Sept. 20 before the House Finance Committee. Both previous DataOhio initiatives passed the House but died in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of the Ohio News Media Association, the state auditor and state librarian, plus some economists. The Ohio Municipal League also has signed on, which is notable because in previous efforts, some cities and villages have been leery of making their spending quite that easy to analyze.

What if it turns out they’re spending way more for road salt or have far more employees per capita than a neighboring city, and everyone can see it?

Exactly. DataOhio is meant to give taxpayers, even those who aren’t CPAs, the ability to judge how their government is operating, in the context of the whole state. It’s the surest way to prod governments to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

School blocks Newark Advocate from talking to citizens after coach’s arrest

From The Newark Advocate

The Lakewood administration said the community is moving forward after the arrest of the eighth-grade football coach.

Business was as usual Tuesday as the eighth-grade football team hosted Licking Heights in its scheduled game. Absent from the sidelines was Gary Stratford, 36, of Thornville, who was arrested over the weekend and charged Monday with rape, a first-degree felony.

According to court records, Stratford is accused of providing a minor with alcohol and then engaging in sexual conduct with them. 

Stratford reportedly admitted to some of the allegations when interviewed by detectives, court records said. He remained in jail as of Wednesday afternoon.

The news quickly spread across the community and on social media Monday. Lakewood middle school principal Jess Fry declined to say what specific concerns or comments that parents of students had shared with her.

"Our parents have a lot of faith and confidence in us, and they trust us to cooperate fully with law enforcement to protect our students," Fry said. "I appreciate that from our parents and our community."

Fry and Athletic Director Bo Hanson, however, would not let The Advocate into Calhoun Memorial Field on Tuesday to speak to community members about the incident.

"I think our parents came to watch this football game in peace tonight to begin the healing process and get some form of normalcy back," Hanson said. "Normalcy starts with the middle school football game."

Ohio bills seek to stop ‘ambulance chaser’ calls after car wrecks

From The Journal News

After traffic wrecks, Ohio drivers often receive a second jolt shortly afterward: A bombardment of calls from people working to get them to visit chiropractors, auto-body shops and other businesses.

Sometimes the phone calls start ringing motorists’ cell phones in less than one business hour after the crash. One friend of an Ohio Senate aide started receiving calls before police cleared the scene of the accident she was involved in.

Shortly after the calls start, letters and packages start arriving in the mail from lawyers and other businesses seeking to represent the motorists. The mail volume can rival that of a high-school senior being wooed by colleges across the country.

After State Rep. Catherine Ingram was involved in a wreck several months ago, she realized, “It was kind of like, ‘Wait a minute. These guys call you at 7 in the morning, and they’ve got your cell phone number. And that makes no sense. And it’s constant — and it was (calls) from all over the state,” she said.

“Same thing with my aide, who was just in an accident … and he was getting calls, and they were telling him that they were the pain-and-injury folks,” Ingram said.

In the news release announcing a bill to curtail such contacts, she called the callers and their clients “ambulance chasers.”

Ingram (D-Cincinnati) and State Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) have introduced two bills taking different approaches to eliminating such contacts.

Ingram’s House Bill 331 would ban companies from contacting people using information from the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s database that contains information about recent wrecks, including closely held cell phone numbers. It would also require the state’s attorney general to establish a hotline for people to report unwanted contacts. Companies with pre-existing relationships with a driver would be allowed to make contact.

Kunze’s Senate Bill 148 would let people involved in wrecks check a box indicating whether or not they wish to receive the solicitations.

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Ohio lawmakers chip away at public records access

From The Columbus Dispatch

Sunshine lawyer Jack Greiner fears Ohio lawmakers may be out to “lap the alphabet twice” when it comes to government secrecy.

In the Ohio Revised Code, exemptions to the state’s public records law are labeled by letter — a, b, c, etc. The most recent exemption — the 31st — is designated (ee) in the law.

Greiner, a Cincinnati lawyer who specializes in open-government cases, fears (aaa) may not be far behind as legislators continue to whittle away at the public’s right to know.

Yet Ohio has a solid public records law compared with many states, said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio News Media Association.

And the state largely has avoided some of the more-draconian efforts to restrict access to records, as seen in other states, amid fears of identity theft and concerns about privacy, he said.

But the ongoing legislative mindset favoring secrecy over transparency is like death by a thousand paper cuts, Hetzel said.

“Most of the time, what we are seeing are generally well-intentioned efforts to carve out new, sometimes small, new exemptions. But, in the aggregate, it is increasingly hard to manage a law with an ever-growing list of exemptions,” Hetzel said.

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This search engine makes finding public records less painful

From Poynter

Bill Hankes was trying to find a way to sweep journalists’ inboxes of press release spam when he stumbled upon a bigger issue.

On a visit to a Seattle newsroom, he watched a reporter spend 45 minutes crawling through U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, copying names and numbers into a notepad on his desktop and then checking them through a data retrieval system. Afterwards, the reporter left for the local patent office to pore over applications, hoping to stumble upon a nugget that could grow into a story.

Hankes estimated that the reporter sunk eight hours into searching through public records in this process over the course of a week.

“And then what happens if Microsoft makes a filing 10 minutes after he leaves the SEC or the court system?” Hankes asked. “He misses it.”

Hankes, who was previously a director at Microsoft’s Bing, perhaps unsurprisingly saw this as a problem that could be solved with better search tools. So he teamed up with David Kellum, another search veteran, and founded Sqoop.

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Residents claim First Amendment violations on trustee’s Facebook page

From The Dayton Daily News

A township trustee running for re-election in Warren County has unblocked Facebook critics since the filing of a federal lawsuit claiming he prevented residents from commenting on his trustee site on the social network.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of five Hamilton Township residents who claim David Wallace Jr. violated the First Amendment when he blocked them from commenting on a Facebook page he uses for township business.

Wallace is one of seven candidates running for two seats on the three-seat board of trustees in the booming township, south of Lebanon.

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