Editorial: Will JobsOhio claw back its grant like Brooklyn did? And why the secrecy over that JobsOhio grant?

Editorial from The Plain Dealer:

For the more than 160 workers then employed at the plant, for the city of Brooklyn, Ohio, and for the Cleveland area's storied history of garment-making, the arrival in 2015 of a high-end men's suitmaker to take over the closing operations of Hugo Boss AG in Brooklyn was fortuitous.

Keystone Tailored Manufacturing LLC, formed by the W Diamond Group of the Chicago area, not only stepped up to take on the skilled workforce who had labored long and hard to keep their jobs in Brooklyn, but also pledged to upgrade the facilities as it brought its made-in-America Hart Schaffner Marx suits line and other items to Ohio. 

The acquisition was greased by generous grants -- $150,000 from the city of Brooklyn to retain and create jobs and payroll; a $420,000 economic development grant from JobsOhio, also apparently tied to job and payroll goals; and an offered $650,000 Cuyahoga County loan, which a county official told reporter Olivera Perkins the company never completed the paperwork on. 

Brooklyn's grant had specific conditions, however: Keystone had to retain 172 jobs and create 20 more jobs by 2019 and another 20 by 2021. And the company had to maintain those jobs for at least 10 years. The company also agreed to maintain the firm's $4.6 million annual payroll, and increase it to $5.7 million by 2021. 

With Keystone's Jan. 10 "WARN Notice of Plant Closing" to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services -- informing the state of its intention to close the plant no later than March 11 and lay off all the 140 workers now employed there -- the city of Brooklyn has determined that Keystone will be in default of those terms. The city has also started the process of trying to claw back the full $150,000.

Keystone officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Brooklyn officials readily provided the editorial board with a copy of the city's Jan. 15 ten-day notice of breach to Keystone, and of the amended June 9, 2015 Job Creation/Retention Grant Agreement with the firm.

But what of JobsOhio's grant? Three weeks after Keystone's formal WARN letter to the state, JobsOhio still won't say whether it will seek to claw back all or some of the $420,000 grant. 

"We do not comment on active company discussions," JobsOhio spokeswoman Renae Scott said via email Wednesday, adding, "however I can confirm we are engaged with Keystone Tailored Manufacturing to discuss next steps."

When asked for terms of the grant, Scott referred our editorial board to a June 2015 summary chart of grants that month, which shows that the $420,000 grant would support Keystone's creation of 20 jobs and added $600,000 annual payroll, the retention of 150 jobs and a fixed investment of $6 million.

It's not clear why the JobsOhio grant's job-retention numbers were so much less than those cited in the city of Brooklyn's jobs grant. 

Scott refused to provide the actual terms of JobsOhio's executed agreement with Keystone, saying in a voicemail message that "JobsOhio is not an agency of the state. We're a private nonprofit. As a private nonprofit we are exempt from the Ohio public record laws."

Given that JobsOhio's budget is indirectly underwritten by state liquor monopoly profits that support the bonds that provide JobsOhio with its revenues, it's arguably a quasi public-private entity. It owes Ohioans more transparency.

But yes, in 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the Ohio legislature specifically exempted JobsOhio from most public records law -- shamefully so. The agency, it appears, isn't required to release more on its incentives, or how it enforces them, than the monthly charts and whatever is mentioned in the public version of its tax returns that a private accounting firm releases.

That's wrong. Ohio citizens deserve to know, at a minimum, how JobsOhio frames job-creation and retention requirements in its grants and how it enforces those requirements. 

Kudos to the city of Brooklyn for seeking to enforce terms of its jobs grant to Keystone and claw back its citizens' money. JobsOhio, which provided nearly three times as much money, should do the same -- and if its deal with Keystone doesn't give it the same power to claw back that money, it owes the taxpayers an explanation for why not. 

'Vexatious' Ohio man wins $3,000 from Erie County

From The Sandusky Register

A former state and federal prison inmate won $3,000 in damages from the Erie County Prosecutor’s office after proving in court the county failed to provide public records in a timely manner.

Lonny Bristow, 45, of Wooster, won the $3,000 in a ruling announced Wednesday by the state’s Sixth District appeals court in Toledo, but he isn’t satisfied. Bristow plans to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court to press his argument he should have been awarded $21,000.

Since he files so many lawsuits in Ohio, the court system has labeled Bristow a vexatious litigator. That means that before he files a new lawsuit, he must obtain court permission first by demonstrating that his court action is legitimate. A search at the Erie County Court Clerk’s online record system shows 29 court cases Bristow has filed in Sandusky.

Commenting on his legal victory, Bristow said, “That should make the prosecutors look pretty bad, a vexatious litigator just kicked their a--.”

Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter said he strongly supports legitimate public records requests but said Bristow’s case demonstrates the public records law can be used for harassment.

Pointing to the fact that Bristow has filed dozens of records requests in Erie County, including 42 requests filed over 42 business days, Baxter said it might be time to refine state law.

“There needs to be some legislative action,” Baxter said.

Bristow, who is unemployed but aspires to go to school and become a paralegal, has filed many public records requests in Ohio.

Last year, he filed requests demanding various county offices in Erie County provide records, including personnel files for prosecutor’s office employees and vacation requests from Baxter’s employees.

Bristow succeeded in getting a court order for compliance when he didn’t get an immediate response. He was able to show that some records weren’t produced for 22 days, despite a 14-day deadline.

The appeals court ruled against Bristow and in favor of Sheriff Paul Sigsworth in one dispute, agreeing with the sheriff that Bristow wasn’t entitled to the sheriff’s cell phone records. Sigsworth argued turning over the records could jeopardize investigations and the use of confidential informants, and the appeals court agreed.

Although appeals judges Mark Pietryskowski, Thomas Osowik and Christine Mayle ruled that Bristow could collect $3,000 in damages, noting that the law doesn’t allow public officials to make judgments on the merits of public records requests, Bristow said he should have been awarded $21,000 and is already pursuing his appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

“It’s not about greed,” Bristow said. “They didn’t do what they’re supposed to do.”

In response to a Register inquiry, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction sent a document Thursday showing Bristow served time in state prison for escape, phone harassment, misuse of credit cards, theft and many other charges.

Bristow said his main violation was successfully using a bogus letterhead to send a forged document from a purported Ohio probation officer, ordering a friend’s release from jail in Georgia.

While in prison, Bristow hacked the prison’s telephone system, took control of 23 telephone lines, and rented the phones to inmates. As a result, three years and three months were added to his prison sentence.

Bristow also served time in federal prison after he was caught using prepaid calling cards to phone in bomb threats to dozens of public buildings, often courthouses, in five states.

He said he has changed his life and no longer commits crimes.

“I don’t do nothing criminal. Especially in this county,” he said while interviewed Thursday at the Register.

He said he files his public records requests to determine if public officials follow the law, typically discarding the resulting documents after inspecting them.

Baxter said Bristow’s filing of more than 100 public records requests in Erie County is a clear abuse of the law.

The prosecutor’s office has two attorneys who handle civil matters, serving as the lawyers for dozens of local governments, including county commissioners, townships and county offices such as the election board.

“We are the lawyer for everybody. They send their public records requests to us,” Baxter said. “Do we need to put on another lawyer to handle Lonny Bristow’s requests?”

City tallies Cincinnati City Council's text lawsuit costs, had to hire outside company to collect texts

From The Cincinnati Enquirer

A City of Cincinnati email has revealed city taxpayers paid $71,000 in outside lawyer fees to defend a court case in which five members of Cincinnati City Council are accused of illegally texting with each other about government business.

That's less than half of the $150,000 council approved for outside counsel when it became clear that the city law department had a conflict of interest because the council members wanted Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman brought into the case, but he fought against it. All nine members of council are clients of the city solicitor's office so the disagreement created the conflict.

Smitherman prevailed and outside counsel is no longer needed.

Last month Smitherman requested costs related to the case from City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething. She answered via email, which Smitherman shared with The Enquirer Wednesday night.

A detailed look at the spending shows:

Taft Stettinius & Hollister, who represented the city, was paid $17,080.

Dinsmore & Shohl, who represented the council members, was paid $43,172.

The city also paid Binary Intelligence, which did technical work retrieving the text messages, was paid $11,708.25.

The total spent was $71,963, according to Boggs Muething. In addition, city attorneys have spent at least 350 hours on the case, though they are salaried employees, she said.

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ACLU and other groups urge Ohio House to turn on the cameras

From The ACLU of Ohio

The ACLU of Ohio is encouraged by Speaker Householder’s stated plan to broadcast committee hearings in the Ohio House. Greater transparency and increased understanding of the legislative process will surely benefit all Ohioans. We hope the Senate will follow suit and do the same for all, instead of just some, of their own committees. In addition, we support passing legislation to formally enshrine this expansion into law so future legislative leaders cannot turn cameras off on a whim.

Gary Daniels is the Chief Lobbyist with the ACLU of Ohio

Read the letter sent to Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. (Opens a .pdf)

Ohio legislature passes bill defining most police body cam videos as public record

From WOSU

The Ohio legislature passed a bill that would ensure most police body camera videos are public record. HB 425 now heads to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

The bill says a body camera video is public record unless it is a confidential investigatory record, a video within a private home or business, or video of a sex crime victim.

Ohio News Media Association president Dennis Hetzel says the bill strikes the balance between transparency and privacy.

“What some other states have done that we've really been quite opposed to would be basically making them open only at the discretion of law enforcement,” Hetzel says. “That's not gonna preserve transparency and accountability, no matter how well-intentioned the authorities may be.” 

The Ohio Senate passed the bill unanimously, and the Ohio House on Thursday unanimously agreed to the Senate amendments.

“I think the bill that we have is probably one of the better ones in the country, because it does preserve the presumption of openness that should be attached to all public records, including these videos, but does carve out some new exemptions and exceptions to deal with some of the issues these cameras raise,” Hetzel says.

The bill does not specify when body cameras must be activated.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther welcomed the bill's passage in a statement.

“The City of Columbus is home to the largest municipal police force in the state of Ohio, and one of the largest in the nation," Ginther wrote. "Just last month our police body cameras resulted in the creation of over 60,000 videos. House Bill 425 is a much needed step to balance the issues of transparency and privacy.”

Blade editorial: Police video is public

Editorial from the Toledo Blade

Ohio lawmakers appropriately have enacted legislation that brings needed clarity to the question of when police body camera and dashboard camera video is a public record.

Such video is definitely a public record, as asserted by House Bill 425; Gov. John Kasich should waste no time signing the bill into law.

Body-worn and dash cameras are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in police departments in the nation. The Columbus Police Department recorded nearly 90,000 incidents on body and dash cameras in a typical month. That’s a lot of public records.

In November, Toledo police received new body cameras — 311 devices, at a total cost of about $228,000.

Their use has contributed dramatically to public accountability in cases of police accused of using excessive force, while also protecting lawful police behavior.

By passing House Bill 425, with zero “no” votes in the House or Senate, Ohio has made itself a leader in establishing that bodycam and dashcam video is a public record.

The law has many exceptions, in addition to those already found in Ohio’s Public Records Law.

They include images of children in some cases, death and injury that isn’t caused by a law enforcement officer, nude bodies, personal medical information, confidential informants, and other private matter, such as the interiors of businesses and homes that are unrelated to a case against a law enforcement officer.

In Cleveland, a federal monitor overseeing reforms in the Cleveland police department found deficiencies in the department’s policies governing the use of body cameras. Cleveland found in 2015 that the use of cameras contributed to a 40-percent reduction in citizen complaints against officers over a nine-month period. The federal monitor recommended a comprehensive policy, which helped spur this law into enactment.

Co-sponsor Rep. Niraj Antani (R., Miamisburg) noted that the bill doesn’t require police departments to wear body cams or when to turn them on.

The bill supplies police departments with guidelines for transparency, while protecting citizens’ privacy.

It may be that the law will require tweaking, as some of the exceptions may prove excessive, and will result in police spending a lot of time and money editing body camera footage to redact images that can’t be shown.

Backers of this legislation included the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Ohio News Media Association.

Making police camera footage into a public record helps keep public confidence that, if it is being constantly video-recorded, at least it is not kept secret and can be subject to public oversight.

Making camera footage a public record doesn’t mean the public is being monitored any less. It does mean that it isn’t being done secretly.

Ohio’s law helps set a national standard for public accountability and transparency by law enforcement.

OGOC joins amicus brief arguing opioid data should be disclosed in public health lawsuit

Editor’s note: The Ohio Coalition for Open Government has joined this amicus brief arguing that the opioid data should be disclosed.

From the RCFP

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 36 media organizations are supporting HD Media and The Washington Post’s fight for the release of key data related to the ongoing opioid crisis.

Approximately 1,300 mostly governmental bodies have sued pharmaceutical companies for their involvement in the opioid epidemic — the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. This case could result in billions of dollars in payouts and could impact the lives of millions of Americans. As part of the case, the Drug Enforcement Administration produced information in discovery about the number of opiate doses sold in each county by pharmaceutical companies from 2006-2014. HD Media and The Washington Post have sought release of this data, which was provided to the state and local government plaintiffs in the case, under state public records laws. However, a district court order has barred its release, citing a protective order in the litigation. The media coalition is urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reverse the district court’s ruling that would prevent the data’s release.

Previously, a West Virginia court ordered the release of much of the DEA’s information on the number of opiate doses sold in that state. As a result, it became clear this type of data was important for the public to have access to, the coalition argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed November 13, 2018. The data "illuminates the depth and magnitude of the prescription drug crisis; indeed, if the West Virginia data is any indication, this data could show a dramatic increase in opioid prescriptions [from 2006-2014]," the coalition writes.  

The information also could shed light on the government’s failure to adequately address the opioid epidemic, the coalition explains, and its release would give the public the necessary information to hold those in elected offices accountable.

In addition, a lack of access to the data might result in less confidence in judicial processes. In the brief, the coalition explains that the Supreme Court has recognized secrecy breeds distrust of the judicial system and its ability to adjudicate matters fairly. It also "insulates the participants, mask[s] impropriety, obscur[es] incompetence and conceal[s] corruption."

The Sixth Circuit and other courts have repeatedly recognized that public interest cannot be discounted when protective orders are issued, especially in matters involving the government and public health. Past legal decisions have also held that court documents produced to parties under protective orders can’t be automatically sealed when they are filed in court — once a document is filed with a court, it cannot be sealed unless the common law and First Amendment presumptions of access are overcome.

"In short, a protective order does not justify sealing 'from public view materials that the parties have chosen to place in the court record,'" the coalition notes.

Read the full brief here.

Kent State to pay at least $179K for presidential search, contract details 'trade secrets' claim from search firm

From KentWired.com

Kent State will pay Russell Reynolds Associates, the executive search firm chosen to find the university’s next president, a $170,000 retainer for its services, plus a $9,000 administrative fee.

The total cost for the search, laid out in a contract between the two parties, will probably be more, and will equal one-third of the new president’s first-year total cash compensation, including their salary and any other “monetary inducements” accepted as part of the hiring negotiations. The $179,000 paid at the beginning of the search to Russell Reynolds will be credited against the total fee. (See the full contract below this story.)

The university’s search for President Beverly Warren in 2013 cost Kent State more than $250,000.

The contract also states Russell Reynolds considers its “processes, procedures, database, portal, candidate and search-related documentation and personal data, and all internal electronic and written correspondence to be confidential, proprietary information, and trade secrets.”

Among other terms and conditions, the university agreed to provide the firm an opportunity to deny any public records requests regarding the presidential search. If the firm claims trade secrets, the contract says Russell Reynolds will bear the burden of proving it.

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Purdue’s secret OxyContin papers should be released, appeals court rules

From Stat News

Kentucky appeals court on Friday upheld a judge’s ruling ordering the release of secret records about Purdue Pharma’s marketing of the powerful prescription opioid OxyContin, which has been blamed for helping to seed today’s opioid addiction epidemic.

The records under seal include a deposition of Richard Sackler, a former president of Purdue and a member of the family that founded and controls the privately held Connecticut company. Other records include marketing strategies and internal emails about them; documents concerning internal analyses of clinical trials; settlement communications from an earlier criminal case regarding the marketing of OxyContin; and information regarding how sales representatives marketed the drug.

The unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel is a victory for STAT, which filed a motion more than two years ago to unseal the records — which were stored in a courthouse in a rural county hit hard by overdose deaths. STAT won a lower-court order in May 2016 to release the documents, but after Purdue appealed, the judge stayed that order.

“We’re tremendously encouraged by this ruling,” said Rick Berke, the executive editor of STAT. “More than two years after we filed this suit, the scourge of opioid addiction has grown worse, and the questions have grown about Purdue’s practices in marketing OxyContin. It is vital that that we all learn as much as possible about the culpability of Purdue, and the consequences of the company’s decisions on the health of Americans.”

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Editorial: Ohio bill to make public most police body camera records could become national model

Plain Dealer Editorial

Now awaiting Ohio Senate action is a significant measure that, with a few tweaks, could become a national model by making police body camera footage a public record. A limited number of exceptions would rest mostly on personal privacy grounds. Substitute House Bill 425 has attracted no opposition, although Dennis Hetzel, president of the Ohio News Media Association, has suggested modest changes that could be made via amendments on the Senate floor.

In June, Ohio's House voted 94-0 for HB 425. On Dec. 6, the Ohio Senate's Government Oversight and Reform committee reported out a substitute bill on a similarly unanimous 10-0 vote. State Rep. Niraj Antani, a Miamisburg Republican who is the bill's prime sponsor, said the Senate may vote on the bill today. 

The bipartisan bill's other prime sponsor is state Rep. Hearcel Craig, a Columbus Democrat. Co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Stephanie Howse, of Cleveland; Kent Smith, of Euclid; and John Rogers, of Mentor on the Lake; and Republican Reps. Tom Patton, of Strongsville; and Steve Hambley, of Brunswick.

HB 425 "can be one of the nation's best laws involving body cameras," Hetzel said in Senate testimony last month -- although he urged lawmakers to reduce the list of 17 new exceptions the bill would add to state public-records law.

Hetzel also argued the bill should be restricted to body cameras until more testimony could be heard on the implications of a House amendment that added police dashboard camera footage to the bill.

"Case law around dash cam footage is well established," Hetzel said. The inclusion of dash cams in HB 425 was unnecessary, he added, "and deserves greater discussion."

The Ohio ACLU's Gary Daniels said the bill's exemptions focused laudably on personal privacy issues, and testified to the Senate that passing HB 425 "will not only be good for Ohio, it will establish our legislature as a national leader on the best ways for state legislators to provide assistance on the use of police body cameras."

Daniels did raise one concern, noting that additional legislation would still be needed to clarify when police body cameras had to be activated - or turned off.

Senators should consider floor amendments limiting HB 425 to body-camera footage until the implications of including police dashboard camera footage in the legislation can be more fully explored. Senators should also seek to reduce the number of exceptions the bill adds to Ohio's public records law.

Overall, however, HB 425 is an excellent bill - a bipartisan Statehouse consensus that should help assure Ohioans of law-enforcement accountability.